A Few Tricks to Ensure a Prosperous 2009

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Високосный год: Leap year

Not long ago, I spent the day cleaning my apartment, and toward evening I began to haul out bags of garbage. My neighbor met me in the hall, took one look at me and cried: Что ты делаешь?! Нельзя выносить мусор! Темно же! (What are you doing?! You can't take out the garbage! It's already dark!). I froze. With my American, legalistic mind, I thought that a new ordinance had been passed that banned midnight garbage runs. But my neighbor -- a left-brained, serious kind of guy -- continued in a different vein: Выносить мусор из дома после захода солнца нельзя. Это плохая примета. С мусором уйдут и деньги и счастье. (You can't take garbage out of the house after the sun sets. It's bad luck. Money and happiness leave along with the garbage.)

Ah. This wasn't a new public sanitation law. This was far more serious. This was superstition (суеверие).

I left my garbage inside. After all, 2008 is високосный год (a leap year), and everyone in Russia knows that leap years are bad years, so why risk making it even worse?

In fact, I have decided to live out the last days of 2008 in total compliance with Russian superstitious rituals. Sneer if you will, but you've got to admit it: 2008 sucked rocks. If Russians were right about the bad luck, maybe they're also right about ways to counter it?

There are several tried-and-true superstitious tricks to ensure good fortune in the new year. A number of them deal with wealth retention, which, considering the dismal state of the world economy, seems like a good place to start.

First: У кого в Новый год пусто в карманах, тот весь год проведёт в нужде (Whoever has empty pockets on New Year's will live the entire year in want). That's easy: Hit the ATM and keep your pockets bulging with cash -- although preferably not in public places. Next: Одалживать деньги под Новый год нельзя, чтобы весь следующий год не быть в долгах (You must not borrow money before New Year's or else you'll be in debt the whole year). That is, pay cash out-of-pocket and leave your credit cards at home.

Next: Не следует в первый день года отдавать долги -- не то весь год будешь расплачиваться (You shouldn't pay back debts on the first day of the year, or else you'll spend the entire year paying out money). Public announcement: If I owe anyone money, they're out of luck until February. Finally: На новогоднем столе должны быть в изобилии еда и напитки, тогда и весь год в семье будет достаток (On the New Year's table, there should be an abundance of food and drink so that the family will live in plenty throughout the year). No problem. My personal hostess rule is this: If there is even a centimeter of the tablecloth showing, cover it with bottles or platters.

At the New Year's table, you must watch the clock, your glass and the speed-drinking abilities of your guests. Последняя рюмка в канун Нового года принесёт удачу тому, кто её выпьет (Whoever is the last to drink down their glass before the New Year will have good fortune). I wonder if it's fair to poke your tablemate at the crucial moment?

Probably not, given the Russian belief for New Year's: Как Новый год встретишь, так весь год и проведёшь (How you greet the New Year is how you will spend it). In other words: No fighting, weeping or spilling champagne on your neighbor. Instead, be sure to have fun, be happy, fall in love and sign a six-figure contract over the appetizers.

I'm going to go for it. If you're at my table on New Year's, watch your drinking arm.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.