My watch was telling me midnight was near, but no activity in the restaurant showed that anyone was aware of it. It was December 31, the Christian neighbourhood Ainkawa in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil, two years ago.
I went out for dinner with a friend, expecting to be celebrating the start of a new year in the company of others doing the same. But when it turned twelve, we were the only people toasting to the New Year. There was no champagne, no partying – even worse: the staff badly wanted us to leave.
How different this is in the West! Go to any restaurant, and the staff of the restaurant is watching the clock to make the count-down to twelve, often serving champagne then. People hug and kiss, even if they hardly know each other, and wish each other the very best for the New Year.
In the Netherlands, people then go outside – whatever the weather is – and send for millions of dollars of fireworks into the air. Every year again there is a new record in spending, and every year again people are called upon to spend their money on a better cause.
There is no way they will, as the Dutch love their fireworks. No matter that the smoke of all the Chinese beauties sent up in the air is bad for the environment and the health. No matter that every year people lose eyes or fingers. In Holland, nobody can imagine New Year without fireworks.
Partying at home or in cafés and restaurants will go on into the small hours. TV channels extend their broadcasts, many showing special music and dancing shows.
Since a couple of years I have seen some fireworks being ignited in Kurdistan too, but always long before midnight. I know of the odd party with singers on New Years Eve, but it always ended before midnight. This year I see restaurants advertising for the evening. With more and more expats living in Kurdistan, change is on the way. But it still has a long way to go. Compare the images of the international TV channels: the whole world celebrates the changing of the old into the new year at the moment supreme: midnight. Then people gather at Times Square in New York and at Trafalgar Square in London.
Kurdistan has Nowruz, that is when the Kurdish New Year starts and fireworks are lit. But almost everywhere else, the year ends in December. Kurdistan could celebrate twice.
I wonder when we will see the crowds celebrating at midnight at the Fountain Square near the Erbil Citadel, or at Saray Square in Sulaymaniya. Because when December changes to January, for the world that is when 2014 starts. And that is when you celebrate.
This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe