Hopeful start to new year

Natalia Andraka, a student at the John Paul II School of Polish Language and Culture, arranges New Year's decorations Monday afternoon at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in preparation for the New Year's Eve party featuring Polish-themed food and activities.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Some in Gainesville rang in the new year with dancing and feasting. Others with prayer.

And, whether people were on the dance floor or in a church pew, organizers of several area New Year's Eve events expressed some similar hopes for 2008 - the chance for different people to work together and world peace.

"One of my hopes is that all cultures can realize that the world is being shared by everyone and that we can get together," said Barbara "Basia" Andraka, 19, who co-organized a New Year's Eve Celebration at the University Hilton that served as a fundraiser for the John Paul II School of Polish Language & Culture.

"We're all in this one Earth together. I just hope we will have more progress than setbacks," Andraka said about 2008.

New Year's is "huge" in Poland, Andraka said. "People plan like all year to go to a huge ball and dance all night."

The local event, which Andraka intends to make an annual celebration at the location, wasn't limited to people with Polish heritage but provided a taste of a Polish end-of-year ball. It featured a variety of music including Polish, American and Latin and such traditional Polish fare as kielbasa or sausage and pierogi, an envelope of dough filled with ingredients like mashed potatoes.

At the United Church of Gainesville on NW 5th Avenue, people participated in an annual Global Peace Dance.

"We've been doing the Global Peace Dance since about 1995. It's been growing since the first year," and takes place in countries around the world as the new year starts, said organizer Diana Kanoy, who owns a small retreat in Alachua County.

The dance uses scripture and music from different religions and cultures. Kanoy described the idea behind the event as a chance "to radiate joy and peace as our songs and prayers join the vibrations of dance circles around the world on the same night."

The event attracted about 100 people last year, Kanoy said.

"There are some people who come regularly for the dancing and some people only for the global peace. Everybody blends," Kanoy said. "The only thing that is really required is that people come with open minds and open hearts."

Kanoy echoed Andraka's desire for a better future.

"We understand more about the beliefs of other cultures," she said. "We see that there are many similarities. As we see similarities, the defensiveness drops away and we become more accepting of other people. We are all alike."

The New Year's Eve service at Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church on SE Williston Road began late Monday at about 9:30 p.m. as participants listened to music before the "Watch Night" ceremony with the Rev. Adrian S. Taylor.

The service traditionally is hosted at black churches every year.

Erika Wise, 23, the church's business administrator and dance instructor, said the service typically attracts a large crowd.

"It's an alternative to worldly things. People look for more fulfillment in attending Watch Night," Wise said.

Lynard Joseph, 25, one of the church's directors who organized the service, said, "We thank God for everything last year. We just thank him for the new year he's bringing us into."

Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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