By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


Thank you, NCAA!

Thank you, NCAA!

Last year I wrote about a Scottish New Year’s tradition – Hogmanay – that I assumed no one still living celebrated.  So it has been startling to see more than 200 people from around the world have Googled the event and were directed to our blog site.  Heck, I don’t pretend to be the Emily Post of Hogmanay but apparently there is not a lot of resource material on how to celebrate New Year’s like a true Scot.    So it got me to thinking that maybe this year I should shine the light on other obscure new year celebrations from around the world.  After all, in the U.S. the NCAA has taken care of our celebration by kindly scheduling the two semi-final BCS bowl games on New Year’s Eve.  Personally, I’m not a fan of going out on New Year’s – or staying up until midnight for that matter.  I’m thrilled that on Thursday night I will don my formal sweat pants,  start a fire, open a bottle of wine, order a pizza and watch football.  But in case you’re interested in doing something a little more exotic, we here at “A Bird’s Eye View” offer up the following suggestions from around the world.

Jump in to 2016:  In Denmark,  people celebrate December 31 by climbing up on chairs and at the stroke of midnight, they leap off of them to signal their “jump” into the new year.  I don’t know about you but I’ve been at many a NYE party where climbing on the furniture was de rigueur but that was 30 years and 30 martinis ago.   At this age I have visions of my friends struggling to even get up on a chair, much less jumping off one.  Heck, they have had broken hips and torn ACL’s taking their dogs for a walk.  Perhaps all of the climbing and jumping should be left to young Danes with strong bone structure.

Talk to the Animals:  In both Belgium and Romania, farmers start the new year by talking to their animals.  What separates the sophisticated Belgians (who really should be focusing on their chocolate) and the crazy Romanians is that in Romania they believe that if the animal communicates back then it portends bad luck for the year.  I don’t want to seem critical here but I think that if you perceive that your cow is talking back to you, bad luck is not your biggest problem.

A flea marketer's delight

A flea marketer’s delight

Re-decorate:  In South Africa, it is a new year’s tradition to throw old furniture out the window on January 1.  When I first saw this photo it reminded me of our old neighborhood on “bulk trash day”.  It’s amazing what people throw out – and how little of it is still on the street after the midnight raid of Ebay enthusiasts.  In any event, for those of you who wish to re-decorate but are getting some resistance from your spouse, you can just throw everything into the street on Friday and claim that you are channeling your inner South African.

Eat, Drink, and Eat Again:  In France, the beginning of a new year is marked by eating a stack of pancakes.  Not those leaden “All You Can Eat” type down at the Waffle House, but light, fluffy cakes that melt in your mouth.  I eat a stack every Sunday at our local café so I guess I will be right on trend this week.  In Estonia, they celebrate January 1 by eating as much as they can  – they refer to it as “Eating in Abundance Day”.  Quality is of no concern, they are driven by the sheer quantity of food they can consume in a day.  Given that as the criteria, I think I’ve been celebrating Estonian New Year’s for the past month.

They could fight for the WWF

They could fight for the WWF

Duke it Out: Finally, my favorite tradition – the Peruvian fist fight.  Every December in a small village they celebrate the Takanakuy Festival, whereby residents engage in fist fights to settle their differences.  Brilliant!!  Seriously, how many of us have wanted to haul off and slug somebody when they’re being annoying?  Just this morning in the grocery store there was a woman who trailed me around the store speaking on her cell phone in a loud voice about her lawsuit against her employer, her daughter’s no good boyfriend, and on and on.  Despite several dirty looks from those around her (mostly me) she persisted.  Now if I lived in Takanakuy, I could have simply given her a good jab to the left jaw and no one would have blinked an eye.  It’s probably just as well we don’t celebrate this tradition, it being an election year and all.  Things are dicey enough.


I hope this has gotten your creative juices flowing on how to celebrate New Year’s.  Whether you choose to watch football, gorge, jump off a chair or talk to your dog, my brother and I wish you and yours a very HAPPY year ahead.





happy hogmanayI was reading about how Americans celebrate the holidays the other day, expecting to have my cockles warmed.  Instead, I ended up with just the slightest amount of indigestion.  All I can say is, people are very strange.  We’ve moved a long way from Grandma baking cookies and Dad reading “The Night Before Christmas”. I learned about pickle Christmas trees, binge-watching COPS one night of Hanukkah, and farting contests on Christmas Eve.  Really. It got so weird that when I read about one family that left cookies and rum for Santa I thought of them as the most reasonable people in the article.  So I skipped over the American customs (or as I came to call them, “White Trash Traditions“) and commenced reading about holiday celebrations around the world.  In comparison to the U.S., they were pretty tame – not a farting contest among them.  But then I stumbled on a tradition I’d never heard of – Hogmanay.  It is the Scottish word for “last day of the year”.  How could I not have heard of this?  My father-in-law was born and raised in Glasgow.  I checked with my husband.  Nope, he’d never heard of it either.  So I thought it was completely bogus until I did some further research.  I’ll say one thing after boning up on Hogmanay- those Scots know how to celebrate.  So in case you need a bit of inspiration for your New Year’s Eve, here is everything you need to know about hosting your own Hogmanay celebration.

First (and it may already be too late for  some of you) Christmas is marked by a very sedate family get-together and is a time for reflection and prayer. Then December 31 rolls around all hell breaks loose. Hogmanay is marked by a loud, joyous occasion celebrating the birth of a new year.  An important element of Hogmanay celebrations is to welcome friends and strangers to your home, with warm hospitality and, of course, a kiss to wish everyone a ‘Guid New Year’. ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young New Year on a happy note.  So far, I’m really liking this Hogmanay thing.


A "lucky" First Footer

A “lucky” First Footer

One of the most important traditions of Hogmanay is called First-Footing. Once midnight strikes and the calendar flips to January 1st, all eyes await the arrival of the year’s first visitor. The person who crosses the home’s threshold first is said to be a predictor of good fortune in the year ahead. To ensure good luck, a first footer should be a dark-haired male (think George Clooney). Fair-haired first footers were not particularly welcome after the Viking invasions of ancient times (just ask Tiger Woods about Elin Nordegren).  To “first foot” a household empty-handed is considered grossly discourteous, and VERY unlucky.  Traditional gifts include a lump of coal to lovingly place on the host’s fire, along with shortbread, a black bun and whisky to toast to a Happy New Year.  Other than the whiskey it all seems a bit dodgy and frankly, like something was grabbed at the last-minute.  But who is to judge?  We’ve all had to raid the pantry for a last-minute hostess gift and I guess a black bun is as good as anything provided that the “black” isn’t due to mold.  I must say however, that this list of gifts does nothing to improve the Scots’ reputation for being cheap.

In the event that you just aren’t up for hosting a Hogmanay celebration,  or you only hang out with blonde women, I will share with you a Sparrow family tradition that has held us in good stead for many years: Pop’s Ice Cream Fizz.  I wrote about this delicious concoction previously when describing our Christmas morning traditions.  Believe me, it has put a roseate hue on what might otherwise have been some testy moments.  Occasionally Pop would also fix it on New Year’s morning as a special treat.  So as a public service to our subscribers, here is the recipe:


Pop, near 80 years old, still making magic

Pop, near 80 years old, still making magic


Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes

Add 6 jiggers of gin

Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream

Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg.  Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.

Just blend for a couple of minutes, and voila!, you have a nectar from the gods.  And for those of you who don’t like gin, please don’t turn up your nose.  Believe me, the ice cream masks the flavor.  You will want to bathe in this stuff.

So as the year ends, whether you celebrate with Hogmanay or Pop’s Ice Cream Fizz, my brother Bob and I wish you and your family a very happy and healthy New Year.


Catalina: Hamilton Cove, Glenmore Plaza Hotel and the ‘Other Side’

by Bob Sparrow

photo (89)Twenty-thirteen portends to be an unusual year for me, perhaps even paranormal, what with all the ‘other side’ things that helped usher in a year with a 13 in it.  No, I’m not superstitious, but like Michael Scott, I am a little ‘stitious’.  While most New Year’s days I’ve watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean somewhere along the ‘left coast’, this year I welcomed in the new year on the ‘other side’ watching the sun coming up over the Pacific from Hamilton Cove on Catalina Island – truly a unique experience.  OK, truth is there haven’t been too many years when I’ve even seen the sun on New Year’s Day, but that’s another story.

If you’ve never been there, Hamilton Cove looks like it belongs on the ‘other side’ of the Atlantic, perhaps on a Greek island coastline or hanging somewhere off the Amalfi Coast in Italy.  I suppose if you have been there, it still looks that way, but as if getting away from it all in Catalina wasn’t enough, several of us wanted to get away from the people who wanted to get away from it all – to the ‘other side’ of Catalina.  I discovered that Catalina is a little like the moon, in that most people only see one side, although I can tell you now from experience, that the ‘other side’ of Catalina is not dark . . . photo (95)unless you go at night, then it’s really dark.  Like the moon, it’s not easy to get to the ‘other side’ of Catalina, you have to have a pass that gets you through the gate on the road to the ‘other side’ that goes through the infamous ‘Airport in the Sky’, Catalina’s private airport where planes don’t really take off from the runway, the runway simply drops out from under them after several thousand feet and, presto, they’re airborne.

glenmore plaza hotelWe were fortunate to be in the company of one Michael Amoroso, whose family has lived on the island for over twenty years and owns and operate the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, ‘the second oldest continuously operating hotel in California’, so says Michael’s brother, Jimmy, who manages the hotel.  I thought it odd that a hotel in this relatively remote location would have such a distinction so I asked Jimmy Jr., Jimmy’s son who works at the hotel, “Whose #1?”  He replied like someone who’d studied hotel history his entire life, “The Hotel del Coronado.”  I decided to see what Google had to say on the matter:

  • ‘Oldest hotel in California’ – the Benicia in northern California – est. 1852
  • ‘One of the oldest hotels in California’ – Murphy’s in the gold country – est. 1856
  • ‘One of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Calif’ – National Hotel (also in the gold country) – est. 1859
  • ‘Largest resort hotel in the world’ – Hotel del Coronado – est. 1888
  • ‘Second oldest hotel in California’ – so stated on Google about the Glenmore Plaza Hotel, but it doesn’t say who’s first or when the Glenmore was established.  Wikipedia probably got their information from Jimmy Jr. too.

I also found on Google a picture with a caption that said, ‘Second oldest hotel in California’ – it was not a picture of the Glenmore.

Meanwhile, back on the road to ‘the other side’, just before reaching the airport we see a buffalo standing alongside the road.  I’ll tell you the photo (92)history of how buffalo got on the island . . . another time.  After a brief stop at the airport, we start down on the western slope of the island; the paved road turns to dirt.  We drive past El Rancho Escondido, a ranch, Michael tells us, started by the Wrigley family back in the ‘30s for breeding Arabian horses – another story too long to tell here.  We also pass a vineyard – yes, another story.  The road leads us to a west coast inlet called ‘Little Harbor’, where there is no man-made harbor, but a small campgrounds and no campers, no nothing except a beautiful uncluttered coastline, which is pretty much what all of the ‘other side’ of Catalina is.  We walked along the beach on this beautiful January day and enjoyed the fresh air, sunshine and solitude.

little harborOur return to civilization is uneventful except for the stories Michael tells us of the ghosts that   inhabit the island.  Back in Avalon we thank Michael for exposing us to the many stories and sides of Catalina, particularly ‘the other side’.




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By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

2011 was not a good year in our household.  This year some health issues, the death of a friend and the roller coaster stock market caught up with us.  And yet, here I sit on New Year’s Eve, convinced that 2012 is going to be a GREAT year.  I’ve polled a few of my friends and their sentiment is exactly the same – they all are looking forward to 2012 with great optimism and hope.

What is it about human nature that we completely suspend reality at the beginning of each year?  We forget that life’s road is bumpy and that each year brings some amount of problems and worries.  We forget that at our age, every doctor’s appointment holds the possibility of being a life-altering event.  And we forget that the world around us (especially in an election year) can be a very hard place to find comfort and joy.

We look at January 1 as a fresh beginning, the slate wiped clean of any problems, and only great possibilities spread out before us in the coming 12 months.  Granted, for those who face overwhelming health or personal issues this may not hold true, but most of us are in complete denial about potential pitfalls in the coming year.

Today we believe that all things are possible.  Today we believe that the new year will bring us contentment, good times and we will finally be able to discard our “fat clothes”.

So here’s to a wonderful 2012 to us all.  May your year be filled with good health and good times.  Happy New Year!!!!