By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — They may celebrate the arrival of 2013 with a ball drop, wishes for a "Happy New Year" and the refrains of "Auld Lang Syne." But back home, local exchange students ring in the new year with different traditions.
Zhanar Tuleutayev celebrates two new years in her hometown of Aktobe in the western region of Kazakhstan.
"The second one is on March 22, the day when night and day are equal," said Tuleutayev, 16, an ASSE exchange student living in Traverse City and attending Traverse City Central High School. "So our ancestors will wear national clothes, visit friends and relatives, and it's a big celebration. Everyone dances, there's lots of food, and everything is bright. It's green outside, so it's really beautiful."
On the international new year, Dec. 31, Tuleutayev gets together with her large extended family for a traditional feast, including horse meat, and to exchange gifts near the festive New Year tree. In the last seconds of the old year, the revelers write their wishes for the new year on slips of paper, then burn the paper and put the ashes into glasses of champagne to be drunk when the elder gives a toast.
At midnight, the family wishes each other "S Novim Godom" in Russian or "Zhana Zhylynyzben!" in Kazakh. The country's president gives a televised speech, followed by fireworks, which many people also set off at home or at parties. Special new year's programming runs on TV all evening long.
"Most of my friends are older and have fun together, but I like to spend it with my family," Tuleutayev said. "This year I think I'm going to Skype with my family even though there's a big time difference. I always, always spend the New Year with my family and this is the first year I won't be with them."
New Year's Eve in Argentina is hot, so Luciana Rios of Buenos Aires spends the evening with her extended family trying to stay cool.
"It's summer for us, so it's really, really humid and hot," said Rios, a Rotary Exchange Student living in Traverse City and attending St. Francis High School. "We have a big dinner with my whole family and hang out at the pool. It's usually a potluck, a lot of cold salads because it's hot. There are a lot for fireworks — a lot of them. They go from midnight to 2 or 3 a.m. We don't set them off — my mom doesn't like it — but there are so many in our neighborhood we don't have to. We just enjoy the view and nobody gets hurt."
Near midnight, the family counts down the seconds to the new year. Then they toast to it with champagne, pan dulce — a sweet bread with candied fruits — and wishes for a "Feliz Ano Neuvo."
This year Rios, 17, will spend the holiday with her host family at Walt Disney World in Florida.
"I already had my white Christmas, so I don't mind being warm on New Year's," she said.
Sara Varenna will spend the evening hanging out at a friend's house with her host sister, Laura Kirchofer. Whatever they do, it's likely to be quieter than the New Year's Eve parties she usually attends in her native Italy.
"I generally go out with friends. We go to parties and we dance. You stay out until late," said Varenna, who didn't get home until 4 a.m. last year. "Last year we went to a party at a building somebody rented. There were 60 people or maybe more. Usually we go to clubs and there are as many as 300 people."
An STS exchange student living in Kalkaska and attending St. Francis, Varenna, 17, comes from Giussano north of Milan. That's where a favorite Italian New Year's Eve tradition originated.
"It's called panettone," she said, of the sweet bread with candied fruits that is much like Rios' pan dulce. "It's traditional for the holidays, so usually you eat that from Christmas to New Year's Eve and the first day of the new year. Usually at midnight of New Year's Eve you cut the panettone and toast with it.
"Usually you have fireworks — everybody does that — and firecrackers you light and throw. You wish each other 'Buon Anno.'"