Celebrating New Year’s Eve Around The World
As we are on the cusp of a fresh new year, let’s explore how different cultures celebrate New Year’s Eve around the world.
Did you know that more people celebrate New Years around the world than any other holiday? This certainly makes for many different cultural traditions to ring in the year, beyond our staple NYC countdown from times square, champagne with friends & family, play Auld Lang Syne and make resolutions. Each country seems to have its own unique New Years celebrations, with different customs for ensuring health, wealth, happiness, and luck in the coming year. So let’s take a look at some of the more interesting New Year traditions around the world, and maybe we can find something fun along the way to adopt into our own celebrations.
Scotland: Celebrating Hogmanay, which denotes the last day of the year, is a big deal in Scotland. So much so that it often overshadows Christmas. Christmas was outlawed by the Church of Scotland for nearly four centuries, until 1958. Though the holiday has regained its popularity, the New Year Festival of Hogmanay still holds a sacred place in Scottish hearts.
Netherlands: Amsterdam hosts one of the world’s largest street parties on New Year’s Eve. If you attend, buy some oliebollen (oily balls) to eat at midnight. Tradition holds that eating these deep fried dough balls will ward off evil spirits in the New Year. Dam Square (the craziest), Rembrandtplein, Nieuwmarkt, and Leidseplein host unofficial street parties with music, fireworks and beer tents. Amsterdam’s celebration is not for the casual partier: Some attendees have likened it to a war zone!
Japan: Oshogatsu is celebrated with family, which both cleans and decorates the entire house together. Then natural decorations such as pine branches, plum blossoms, and bamboo play a special role in preparing for the New Year celebration.
China: To symbolize happiness and good luck in the New Year, Chinese celebrants paint their front doors red. In general, red colors New Years Eve in China, with red packets of money for children, red rackets for married couples, and red lanterns.
South Africa: Some South Africans—particularly those in the neighborhood of Hillbrow in Johannesburg— take cleaning house for the new year to an entirely new level. Throwing old furniture and appliances (think fridges!) from the windows of tall buildings somehow helps to make the new year bright. It’s actually a very serious health hazard there!
Brazil: Lentils are the alimentos do dia for Brazilian New Year’s celebrations. The legume can come in different forms, such as soup, to help with finances in the New Year. Then, before midnight, they believe people should also eat seven raisins (because why not?!).
France: The French are known for their particular food preferences. On New Year’s Eve, edible opulence steals the show in the form of le reveillion de la Saint-Sylvestre. Partiers will feast for hours on foie gros, goose or turkey, oysters, and of course plenty of champagne. The top-flight fare is meant to signify wealth in the year to come.
Spain: A challenge in speed-eating, Spain’s New Year’s food tradition requires that people eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve– one for each time the clock chimes. Otherwise, superstition suggests that you’ll miss out on extra good luck for the coming year!
India: While January first is certainly celebrated there, the New Year celebration in India actually has many different dates. Rongali Bihu is the most popular: It’s celebrated in mid-April, on the first day of the Hindu solar calendar. But the specific day of celebration changes from region to region.
Egypt: In Egypt, the New Year’s Day celebration changes according to the moon. But, unlike other countries that go the lunar route, here the festivities do not begin until a crescent moon is sighted!
Cambodia: Another country that celebrates a New Year in April, Cambodia has a 3-day long holiday that is dictated by the end of their harvest season. It follows the same lunar calendar as India, in which the New Year begins when the sun enters the sign of Aries.
Israel: The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana brings in the New Year in early autumn, as does the Islamic New Year (usually in late September). Many Orthodox Christians in Israel celebrate New Year’s on the first of September.
Bali: Many east Asian cultures use the lunar calendar to determine New Year’s Day. But some parts of Indonesia use a special Saka Calendar, which puts the holiday on a different date than China’s lunar system. It’s typically more of a somber affair, used primarily as a day of rest rather than celebration.
Vietnam: The Vietnamese wear brand new clothes to bring in the New Year with a fresh start. These clothes are not the modern Western styles that most people wear in their daily life, but rather a traditional outfit called ao dai, featuring a long gown worn with trousers.
Italy: Like the Vietnamese, Italians wear new clothes to ring in the New Year. As with the Russians, it’s a time for presents, with each gift (things like honey, gold, money, and lamps) symbolizing something specific for the receiver. The gifts are serious business!
Turkey: In Turkey, wearing red underwear at midnight on New Year’s Eve is crucial to bring good luck in the coming year. For that matter, this tradition is also observed in other countries, including Italy, Spain, and Mexico. Red is traditionally a lucky color at this time of year. Who knows how the underwear in particular became important?
Brazil: Taking the idea of lucky New Year’s underpants even further, in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela, the color of underwear helps to determine the wearer’s specific successes for next year. Red brings love, yellow brings money, green brings luck, and so on. Local markets will be festooned with colored underpants leading up to the New Year.
Australia: Sydney Harbour hosts one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. It’s mid-summer in the southern hemisphere, and thousands of people gather around the Opera House in anticipation. An aerial show and water display kick off the celebration at 6pm. A family-friendly fireworks show starts at 9pm, while the main attraction– the Harbour Light Parade– is at midnight.
Colombia: One of Colombians’ favorite ways to celebrate the New Year is to carry an empty suitcase around the block. The tradition is meant to bring celebrants a year of travel (which hopefully will involve a little more packing).
Denmark: Many of the world’s New Year’s traditions revolve around the stroke of midnight: fireworks blasting off, the ball dropping, kissing a loved one, toasting with champagne, etc. In Denmark, people jump off of their chairs in unison at midnight. This symbolizes jumping forward into the new year and leaving bad things behind.
Chile: In the small town of Tulca, Chile, it is tradition to spend the last night of the year at a sleepover at the cemetery. Locals believe that the souls of dearly departed friends and family come to hang around on the night of New Year’s Eve. So they make fires, bring food and drink, and decorate their loved ones’ graves for some ghostly quality time.
Ecuador: In Ecuador, los años viejos (the old years) is a beloved part of how to celebrate the New Year. People construct large scarecrows of those they don’t like and set them alight at midnight in order to burn away the ills of last year. Building the scarecrow is a family activity. While it’s mostly done for fun and laughs, controlling the bevy of fires is sometimes a serious undertaking.
Author: Carrie Mitchell
Carrie A. Mitchell is the founder of L’Aventure Travel, the host of the Suitcase Sojourn Podcast, and author of the children’s travel book “To Be We”. Carrie is a global travel and hospitality expert who works with publications, brands and entertainment outlets on a number of travel related projects, from marketing consulting to editorial coverage to hosting & producing content for the web, TV and podcasts. She is always seeking to learn from people and places around the world, and share through her cultural exploration (40+ countries and counting)