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How do people celebrate New Year around the world?

7 min read

Originally written on December, 2019. Updated 2022

Even if people celebrate New Year in a number of ways, on 31st December, the festivities hit all places across the world at slightly different times too, due to the different time zone.
Where’s the first place in the world to celebrate New Year?
Tonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island), part of Kiribati, are examples of the first places to welcome the New Year, while Baker Island in the United States of America is among the last.
Some cultures may celebrate New Year at a different time to our 31st December, because they use a different calendar than ours.
However, whenever they take place, New Year traditions are designed to bring luck and good fortune in the year ahead.

Making a lot of noise, from fireworks to gun shots to church bells, seems to be a favorite New Year’s pastime across the globe. In ancient Thailand, guns were fired to frighten off demons, in China firecrackers routed the forces of darkness, while in the early American colonies, the sound of pistol shots rang through the air.
Today, one of the most popular ways to celebrate the New Year is with big fireworks displays. These take place all over the world, when the countries hit midnight.
In New Zealand, for example, crowds gather at Auckland Sky Tower in the capital for an impressive fireworks display, and the same happens in Sydney Harbour in Australia.
In Toronto, Canada, people gather in Nathan Phillips Square, while in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, people flock to the city’s famous Copacabana beach to watch the sky being lit up by fireworks.
Some countries, like Japan and South Korea, ring bells to start the New Year. In Japan, the bells traditionally are rung 108 times, so you can expect it to be quite noisy!

If you came out of your front door to find a load of smashed plates, you might be, of course, a bit confused. If you celebrate New Year in Denmark, that’s exactly what local people hope to find after midnight, as it means good luck. In short, if you were Danish, you might go and smash a plate on a friend’s doorstep to bring good luck over the next 12 months! The bigger the pile of shattered crockery on your welcome mat, the more good fortune you receive.


In Brazil, but also in Italy and Chile, there is a tradition to eat lentils at New Year, as these represent money, meaning good fortune for the year ahead. In Dutch homes, fritters called olie bollen are served, the Irish enjoy pastries called bannocks, in India and Pakistan rice promises prosperity and apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah tradition, the Jewish New Year.
In some homes in Switzerland, dollops of whipped cream, symbolizing the richness of the year to come, are dropped on the floors. And allowed to remain there!
Although the pop of a champagne cork signals the arrival of the New Year around the world, some countries have their own drink-based traditions.
Wassail, a punch-like drink named after the Gaelic term for “good health,” is served in some parts of England, and spiced “hot pint” is its Scottish version. In Holland, toasts are made with hot, spiced wine.


In New York, huge crowds of people head to Times Square to count down to midnight, even though the thing that everyone is looking forward to is the drop of a a glowing ball that is lowered down a big flagpole, reaching the bottom as the clock hits midnight. As a result, other cities in the US now have their own traditions of dropping things on New Year’s Eve. For example, in Vincennes, Indiana, people drop watermelons from high up!

In some countries including Finland, there is a tradition of melting a small horseshoe (for luck, of course) and dropping it in cold water. The metal will make a shape in the water when it cools, and people then try to read the shape to tell them something about their future. For example, if it makes the shape of a flower, it could mean they have an unknown admirer. Bubbles? Great, money’s on the horizon. Tin breaks up in the water? Ops, that’s not good!


When the clocks hit midnight in Spain, you’ll find people reaching for grapes. This is because there is a tradition to eat one grape each time the clock strikes at midnight. What began as an excuse for grape-growers to shed their excess produce a century ago has blossomed into a much-loved tradition: each of “las doce uvas de la suerte” (the 12 lucky grapes) provides one month of good luck.
Also Filipinos gobble grapes…but also oranges, watermelons, apples and cantaloupe. The custom is to gather 12 different fruits, one for each month of the year, but they have to be round, because that represents wealth and prosperity.


In Romania, there’s a tradition for people to dress up as dancing bears to chase away any evil spirits: this is because bears are special according to old Romanian stories and are able to protect and heal people. In addition, Romanian farmers spend their New Year’s trying to communicate with their livestock, earning good luck if they succeed.


The pieces of confetti fluttering through the streets of Buenos Aires around lunchtime on December 31 appears just celebratory, but the explanation behind the custom is more practical: Argentines shred all their old documents and papers before the end of the year, to symbolise leaving the past behind. It’s hardly the most hazardous thing flying out of windows around the world on New Year’s, though: many other Latin American countries are fond of throwing buckets of water, while South Africans throw their old furniture onto the street from great heights.
Yes, that’s true: in Johannesburg, for example, but also in some cities in Southern Italy, people like to start the year without any unwanted items.
In Johannesburg, people use the new year as a reason to chuck out old furniture, and they do this by throwing them out of the window.


If you want to have adventures in the new year, in some parts of South America there is a tradition to try to make this happen: in some countries, you might see some people on New Year’s Eve walking around with an empty suitcase. Some believe that taking what is called a “suitcase walk” means they will have a year full of adventures ahead!


You just might find your soul mate in the new year or, at the very least, have an amorous year if you wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. At least, that’s what’s widely believed in Latin America, and we’re guessing December is a good time to own an intimate apparel shop over there! Argentines looking for love don pink underwear, and they’re not the only ones paying so much attention to their undies on December 31: Mexicans and Bolivians wears yellow underpants for luck, red lingerie in Turkey flies off the shelves, but red is worn also around the Mediterranean to court love, while Brazilians wear white for good fortune.
On New Year’s Eve, thousand Brazilians gather, many wearing white, at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro to offer white flowers and other gifts to Yemanja, the Afro-Brazilian queen of the sea. It is believed that she will bring energy and strength. Many toss their gifts into the sea, some on makeshift boats, hoping the goddess will grant their new year wishes.
Single women in Ireland do a little more to find the love than simply slipping into a new pair of slip: the local custom entails placing mistletoe, the wild berry associated with fertility in European mythology, and a kissing magnet over Christmas, under the pillow on New Year’s Eve, then burning it in the fire the next day in the hope of luring love in the next 12 months.


We can’t finish an article about New Year’s without mentioning Hogmanay, and the strange Scottish customs that accompany it. According to the legend, a strapping man is meant to rock up at your front door at midnight carrying whisky, coal, short bread and a black bun (the soooo popular fruitcake!), and the tradition continues today, with the first person to cross the threshold of a home in the new year bearing gifts. There’s also lot of fire, derived from pagan influences. Edinburgh’s torchlight procession on 30 December fills the streets of the capital with a sea of light, while locals in Stonehaven spend their Hogmanay parading through the streets wielding enormous fireballs.
Last things: in Konstanz, Germany, people jump into 6-degree Celsius water in Lake Constance. They’ve been doing it for almost 50 years even carrying torches, while in Italy, in addition to eating cotechino and lentils at midnight, someone puts a coin in the stocking, and it is said that the first person to wish “happy new year” must be a male!





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