We will need a lot more than luck to get us through 2017 (and likely through 2020). Fortunately, there are traditions from all over the world and all through history to help us get the New Year off on the right foot.

Go way back to Ancient Rome. Rumor has it that it was Julius Caesar who in 46 BC tinkered with the calendar and established Jan. 1 as the start of the New Year. January was named after the two-faced god Janus who dwelled in doorways and arches. Janus could look both backward and forward in time. To curry favor with old two-face, folks would offer sacrifices and make promises of a year of good behavior.

Babylonians also made promises to the gods and, in addition, paid off their debts and returned borrowed objects to get in their god’s good graces. Early Christians would consider their own past mistakes and resolve to do better; so began the idea of New Year’s resolutions.

Regarding those resolutions, we currently are, unfortunately, a country without willpower. Apparently, of the 45 per cent of Americans that make resolutions, only about eight per cent keep them.

Though personal resolutions might be in vain, there are other customs that might bring the optimum conditions for the coming year. The optimist in me says let’s try them all and hope for the best. One South American custom mentions the unmentionable — your underwear. Wear red undies for love, gold for wealth, and white for peace on the first day of the year.

In other places, folks can forget the color of their skivvies, but consider their and your cleanliness. A Buddhist tradition in Japan brings cleanliness by ringing a bell 108 times to expel the 108 types of human weaknesses.

If the bell isn’t enough, there is a Puerto Rican tradition that would cleanse anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. They have been known to dump pails of water out of the window to ward off evil spirits, and perhaps drench their neighbors. More dangerous are South Africans who sometimes throw furniture out of their windows.

Shapes are important for fortune. Round is right when it comes to bringing luck in the Philippines, since the circular form symbolizes coins or money. Coins play a role in many other cultures. Bolivians, Greeks, and many others bake coins into sweets, with the finder having the best year ahead.

Many societies have ideas for eating the right food for good fortune. In the southern United States, black-eyed peas and ham hocks, known as ‘Hoppin’ John,’ is the suggested meal. The saying goes, “Eat peas on New Year’s day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year.” The Spanish suggest eating 12 grapes on the eve of the New Year to bring 12 months of good luck, while the French eat a pile of pancakes.

Not everyone eats food for luck. The Irish eschew eating, and instead throw bread at their walls to get rid of evil spirits. Drop ice cream on the floor in Switzerland, and in Romania toss corn into the river.

Belgians might not be thinking of eating, but speaking to their food. They suggest talking to livestock. For them, wishing cows happy New Year is well advised.

The Dutch focus less on the dairy and more on the incendiary, as they burn Christmas trees and make bonfires, while also setting off fireworks for good luck.

In any case, wishing you a very happy new year. In the words of Hal Borland, “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” 

May that be said of all of us in 2017.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.