In a remote village in Madagascar, a glowing white ball floats high in the sky — only as the clock strikes 12, it doesn't drop. Its understated luminescence, with help from the stars, lights up the sandy path and guides us home.
New Years' traditions are quiet and modest when living in an electricity-less village, where its center hosts 3,000 people, mainly consisting of children who are asleep with the sun. Despite the lack of fireworks and boisterous crowds, the Antandroy share their own quirky traditions to welcome the New Year.
New Years Eve: Christmas celebrations continue through the last day of the year, as children hold nightly nativity performances at the church. Tinsel and strands of colored bulbs decorate the dilapidated building. The pews are filled with the brothers and sisters of the cast, the smallest of them asleep on a straw mat in the front of the room. The angels are dressed in white and hold a white scarf over their heads as halos. The tinest actresses and actors play the role of the sheep — the most enthusiastic sheep to ever exist. The bible school teacher holds a lantern up close to the bible as she narrates the story of Jesus.
Outside the church, neighbors gather to sing and play the guitar. The village is quiet aside from this, as many people have already gone to sleep.
Midnight: Tipsy teenage boys stroll through town, rejoicing "2017 is here!" The guitarists wrap up and shortly after, everyone says goodnight.
6:00 a.m., New Years Day: Children travel from house to house, greeting adults with a handshake. They keep their hands out, waiting for their New Years' bonbon, or candy. (Imagine trick-or-treating without the costumes.) Once they have eaten the candy, they collect the wrappers, using them as play money. The big lollipop wrappers are the ones to keep a lookout for, with a value of 100,000 ariary. The smaller, shiny wrappers go from anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 ariary, depending on which kid you ask.
7:00 a.m.: A morning church service is held to ring in the New Year. They pray for rain to continue throughout 2017. People exit the church in a single-file line to shake hands and wish "Tratry ny taona!" or Happy New Year! to the bible school students, the pastor and his family. While walking home, you wish a happy New Year to almost everyone you meet and exchange three kisses on the cheek.
Noon: Since it's a special day, chicken, goat or sheep will be served with the obligatory mountain of rice during lunch. Though maybe not Malagasy tradition, I explained New Years' resolutions to my neighbors and we shared each other's over sheep meat, cucumber salad, sweet potato patties, rice and Coke. They ranged from building a rock house (my neighbor said she will buy two bags of cement a week, using money from her wage), to sharing personal expertise to help people living in the countryside to continue learning (an encouraging resolution coming from a four-year-old!)
2:00 p.m.: After putting on a new outfit — whether it be a cute graphic tank top and jean shorts, or a hooded vest and bright coral capri pants — students walk through town to show off. The new clothes represent good fortune for the New Year. Of course, when there is an opportunity for a photo shoot, they will not disappoint. Expect every possible pose.
The day continues with people visiting your home to wish you a Happy New Year with a smile and a handshake. The recurring drizzle suggests that 2017 will be a prosperous year for the hopeful people of Ambondro.