How “No:ia” Came to Be

When thinking of celebrating New Year’s Day many think of enjoying the day off and maybe sleeping in.

But in many Haudenosaunee communities, waking up early for “No:ia” (new-ya) is something that provides fuel for an age-old tradition and a pick at sweets for breakfast.

For the traditional Haudenosaunee, the belief that the year does not renew until the ashes have been stirred in ceremony is still strongly upheld. However, many of our European neighbours rubbed off on us and hold similar customs in comparison to one another during the new year.

The Scottish celebrate a part of “Hogmanay” (hawg-man-ay) with First-Footing by running from house-to-house shortly after midnight to welcome the new year. After converting to Christianity the Irish placed a great importance on who was the first person in the door at the start of New Year’s Day and preferred a dark haired man to bring good fortune. The British would open their back door to let the old year free, and ask a dark haired man to come through the front door carrying coal, salt and bread at the stroke of midnight. But, it was the adaptation of our Dutch neighbours celebration of the new year roughly 400 years ago that simply stuck.

So what is No:ia you ask?

“Gellukig Nieuwjaar” (gae-loo-hig new-yar) is how you say “Happy New Year” in Dutch, and the term “Nieuwjaar” is where the adapted word “No:ia” stems from.

Haudenosaunee ancestors saw Dutch children celebrating the turnover in their calendar cycle by aiming to be the first at a neighbour’s doorstep early on New Year’s Day. If this was performed, the children would be considered very lucky and rewarded with coin, fruits and Oliebollen. Oliebollen is a sweet, oil fried dumpling that is very, very similar to indian donut and might be where the pastry originated from. This trip of running from house-to-house had to be completed before noon and this piece of the Dutch celebrations has since been adapted and immortalized within Haudenosaunee communities.

Fast-forward 400 years and on New Year’s Day Haudenosaunee children (and adults) still visit their relatives and friends to holler “No:ia!” on their doorsteps. The visitors will then subsequently receive one of a variety of treats including; fruits, homemade indian donuts or cookies, and sometimes a jar of honey early in the morning.

It can be said that this practice was adapted because it falls perfectly in line with the cultural and moral basis of the Haudenosaunee. Celebrating No:ia in this way is a great form of reconnecting with old relatives and friends and it shows appreciation for familial connection. The sense of sharing falls directly into giving and offering food freely as a custom that has not been forgotten. As well, the smell of warm donuts and cookies is a keepsake many Haudenosaunee cherish in childhood memories.


Happy No:ia!

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