Different ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve around the world

By Tami Pereira / December 8, 2020
Different ways to celebrate New Year's Eve around the world

New Year’s Eve is one of those days when we realise how lucky we are to live in such a multicultural world. From eating 12 grapes at midnight with every clock stroke, to burning scarecrows, to having fun with family and friends at the beach. Keep reading and start planning which countries celebrating you would like to do this year!

 

Bulgaria

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All across Eastern Europe, people welcome the New Year with customs and special foods thought to bring prosperity and good luck. Bulgaria is no exception. For Bulgarians, New Years is a big celebration, maybe even a bigger and more awaited celebration than Christmas! This is probably because the religious festival of Christmas was prohibited in Communist days. So, the Christmas festivities are largely quiet with respect to the boisterous New Year celebrations. There are festivals, processionals, carnivals, and sporting events throughout the entire week preceding New Year’s Day.

In Bulgaria, families and friends will assemble for a traditional feast, rivaling their Christmas spread on New Year’s Eve across the world. A few meat dishes, a pig’s head, simple cake and a popular flaky cheese pie called banica can be enjoyed throughout Bulgaria. Fish (usually pickled herring) is sometimes served in other Eastern European countries because it is believed that the silver scales of fish symbolize gold.

Greens (usually cabbage) are also associated with money and thought to bring good fortune. However, you won’t find Eastern Europeans eating lobster or crab, as they are considered bad luck. It is thought that backwards moving animals are bad luck and could cause setbacks in the coming year.

People line restaurants and pubs throughout the evening. The President addresses the world on television at midnight, and the celebration ensues with fireworks and church bells. To loved ones, this is accompanied by hopes for good health and happiness in the coming year. The ceremony lasts into the early hours of New Year’s Day.

LADOUVANE

Ladouvane is also performed in Western Bulgaria and the Central Balkan Range on New Year’s Eve. This is a festival where husbands are sought out by young ladies – one contributes a ring to the unmarried village girls. The rings are then connected together with a red string and attached to a spring water pot with fertility symbols (oats and barley). The girls dance around the pot, singing love songs and charming princes. The Ladouvane is accompanied by the Vassilitza fortune telling, where the fortune teller tells the girls about their romantic destinies. The girls taking part in Ladouvane on January 2nd admit who they want and send the boys in the village tokens of their affection.

On New Year’s Day, also referred to as St. Basil’s Day or Survaki in Bulgaria, many people will celebrate by leaving their homes and heading to the beach. Keep in mind that the average temperature this time of year is -10ºC to 0ºC!

Spain

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Spaniards are different. A good New Year’s Eve always starts with friends or in family with a big table full of tapas (prawns, Iberian ham, cheese, olives, canapes, stuffed egg, fuet…). After that, when you think your stomach is already full, the main dishes come, usually fish and/or meat.

Nevertheless, in Spain, the most widespread tradition of New Year’s Eve comes after the meal. It is the one of the twelve grapes. It consists of eating a grape with each stroke that the clock on Puerta del Sol, in Madrid, strikes at twelve at night on December 31. The twelve bells are broadcast live on television every year and it is said that whoever does not eat the twelve grapes before the bells end will have a year of bad luck.

As a Spanish woman, all my life that has been the funniest time of the evening. Trying to get twelve grapes in thirty seconds while seeing everyone in your family doing the same thing (including your grandma starting some minutes earlier so she doesn’t suffocate), some of them too slow, others too quick, all of us united in a simple tradition…it is priceless.

Later on, we toast our glasses full of cava or champagne saying ‘Salud’ and making a wish. Some people put a gold jewel in the cup, usually an alliance, to augur luck in the coming year.

According to international media, there are two hypotheses in this respect of eating grapes:

  • The first dates back to 1880, when the Spanish bourgeois class imitated the French class, who used to drink sparkling wine and eat grapes at Nochevieja dinner. A short time later, in a tone of irony, the tradition was followed by a group of Madrid citizens who came to the Puerta del Sol to eat grapes while ringing the bells, according to a report by the BBC that takes details from the book “España,” by American journalist Jeff Koehler.
  • The second hypothesis is in 1909 when the farmers of Alicante had a successful crop of white grapes, called Aledo, and sold them as seasonal ‘lucky grapes’ to get rid of the surplus, which was linked to the arrival of the New Year.

Also, it is a tradition to wear red underwear: panties, briefs, a garter, scarf, hats…Other traditions include receiving the New Year with big fireplaces, dressing up any random costume and, of course, setting off fireworks. 

Ecuador

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In Ecuador, los años viejos (the old years) is a beloved part of how the people there celebrate the New Year. People construct large monigotes, (scarecrows) of those they don’t like and set them alight at midnight in order to burn away the ills of last year. These are filled with paper or sawdust and modeled after a public figure who somehow wronged the world in the previous year, such as a corrupt politician or a celebrity who fell from grace. The monigotes are burnt in the streets of the cities at 00:00 hours on January 1, always with ample noise (because it is normal to fill them with firecrackers) and then all this is followed by dinner and festivities.

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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. This tradition originated in Guayaquil in 1895 when a yellow fever epidemic hit the town and coffins packed with the deceased’s clothes were burned for purification. The Ecuadorians also burn photographs from the previous year in the name of good fortune and starting fresh.

Some time ago, the monigotes were produced with used garments filled with sawdust or newspaper – now it is manufactured mostly with wood, cardboard, and paper, and in recent years in Guayaquil, it has become customary to create giant and very intricate monigotes that, in some cases, measure up to ten meters. Contests are held to select the best monigote, primarily in Quito and Guayaquil towns.

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And there are live performances of pyrotechnic games in the country. It is very common during December 31, particularly in famous places, that men disguise themselves as “widows” and ask for money on the streets for the cars they drive, followed by dances and picaresque words, thus reflecting the sorrow felt by the “crazy widow” for her husband’s next departure, in this case the year that is about to end.

Such traditions that are a little less popularized are:

  • Reading a testament where the purposes for the new year are recalled or all the misfortunes are read (as a cabal to eradicate the bad).
  • Placing a high-denomination ticket on the right foot to have money or keeping the ticket during the zero hour to have money all year long.
  • Wear yellow underwear if you want luck, a red one if you want luck in love, or an orange one if you want to have control.
  • Take out a suitcase and run over an entire apple with it. To be able to fly during the new year.
  • Eat twelve grapes twelve minutes until the year ends, one per month in order to provide abundance in the twelve months.
  • A banquet is customary for all the families reunited, the main meal is normally pork or turkey.
  • In the brindis of the dinner it is customary to give for the good works of those present.
  • While the monigote is burning, some families are used to jumping on the hoguera to bring luck in the coming year.
UK 

 

Being with family or with friends, the British like to celebrate New Year’s Eve  with charm. With 10 seconds left until midnight, they do the traditional countdown as soon as the clock strikes, hugging and kissing to congratulate the coming year, maybe under a mistletoe. 

Before that, a lovely meal has been eaten. Later on, everyone holds hands and sings a traditional song called ‘Auld Lang Syne’. As well as this, some people writes ones New Year’s resolutions.

In Scotland and several other areas of the UK, there is an ancient superstition that the first person to reach someone’s home on New Year’s Day would carry with them all the luck for the coming year. This tradition is called first footing. On New Year’s Day the first person to reach a house is recognized as the first footer. Dark haired persons are considered to be the luckiest first footers, because when heading first footing, it is conventional to carry a lump of coal. Personally, one year I spent Christmas in England and it was the loveliest time, I was the first footer!

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Also, lately, you can see some families and friends set off fireworks to celebrate the New Year, something that was formerly reserved for Bonfire Night only. So much so, that in London, with Big Ben in the background, this becomes a party with large numbers of people gathering there to celebrate the end of the year. In recent years, fireworks have also been launched near the London Eye.

China 

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For Chinese people, December 31st is not as important as their original New Year’s Eve based on the lunar calendar. However, most of the people still celebrate it. 

Anyway, we will talk about their Spring Festival, their biggest event of the year. The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between 21 January and 20 February. Next year, the Chinese Calendar says it will take place on February 21st, the Year of the Ox.. 

On this day, all Chinese people eat together and set fireworks. Invented in ancient China, fireworks were originally made from dried bamboo stalks. When thrown in a roaring fire, they would emit loud bangs.

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Most children from China get hongbao (lucky money). It is money placed in a red envelope (red is the colour of luck in China) and given as a gift usually by the elders of the family. The hongbao represents blessings for the year to come and people tend to stop receiving it when they begin to work or get married, depending on the region.

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More traditions include decorating the full house with lanterns (light represents a bright future, so red lanterns represent good luck, good fortune). It is common for married couples to get red rackets. Also, Chinese celebrants paint their front doors red. What’s more, wearing brand new clothes is a must.In regards to food, for the northern regions of China, dumplings are featured prominently in meals celebrating the festival. It often serves as the first meal of the year either at midnight or as breakfast of the first day. Last but not least, Chinese people have a little room in the house for worshipping their ancestors on this day, which takes no less than one or two hours. 

Peru

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It is common in Peru to wear yellow clothing (underwear, mostly) for New Year’s Eve, so a lot of clothes of the aforementioned colour are sold at this time. In this country, yellow represents positive energy, luck, and happiness. They usually wear yellow underwear inside out and then change it around quickly after midnight. The changing of clothes also symbolizes a strengthened relationship with your partner.

Also, like the Spaniards and most Latin American countries, with each bell they eat a grape. For Peruvians, each grape represents a month of the year. Some people say each month out loud as they eat each grape, while others make 12 wishes. Make sure that 6 of the grapes are red and 6 are green.

Moreover, it is very common to create dolls (representing characters that make people talk media). These hold inside items that were no longer used in the old year as well as pyrotts, in addition to being manufactured by hand. For those who do not have time to make one by hand, these “dolls” are currently made of cardboard; they often typically hold the calendar of the previous year in one of their hands. Fireworks typically surround this celebration (the popular “castles”, wooden or “cane” structures filled with pyrotechnic devices and other more elaborate ones).

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Another tradition includes placing three potatoes under a chair. One is peeled, one partly peeled, and all of the skin is on the other. An individual selects a potato at midnight with their eyes closed and each yields a forecast for the future. You’re going to be wealthy if you have one with skin, one that’s partially peeled means you’re going to have a regular year, and one that’s without skin means you’re going to have no income.

Nevertheless, there are many national and international cultures that coexist in Peru and the aforementioned traditions are carried out in cities with a greater presence of immigrants such as the capital Lima, so there are different ways to spend the New Year in the provinces of this region, which is why tourism is increasing at these dates. In the provinces, such as Cuzco, the main square is normally surrounded at 12 o’clock at midnight in circles, where visitors participate and so it is a great traditional tourist attraction of this region.

Costa Rica

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In Costa Rica, there are several customs and superstitions (known as agüizotes from the Nahuatl “ahuitzotl”) that have become widespread throughout the ages, such as: eating twelve grapes before the new year, taking a short tour with a suitcase to guarantee trips in the year, make three wishes at midnight, wear a red garment and bury coins or place twigs of Saint Lucia in your wallet to guarantee prosperity and abundance.

Many people decide to go to the beach with their families and friends to greet the next year, others like to spend the holiday in the Fiestas de Zapote, a town east of the city of San José where huge popular festivities have been held since the 25th of December, with bullfights and rides. Likewise, New Year masses are held and concerts are held in large cities, while hotels and restaurants offer all kinds of gala activities.

In this way, on New Year’s Eve, families meet since the afternoon, in a lavish dinner that usually follows the typical festive December menu: Christmas tamales, dishes based on white meat (oven-roasted chickens or turkeys bathed in their juices and stuffed with plums, ham marinated with pineapple and bathed in fruit sauces, loins stuffed with cheese and olives, pork ribs in plum sauce), highlighting the traditional pork leg meat bathed in plum sauce with rice of almonds; some stew with wine or chickpeas arranged with pork ribs, rice with chicken, cold salads, mashed potatoes and / or apples with almonds and garden salads full of vegetables. 

In addition, olives stuffed with almonds are not lacking on the table or sweet chili, an abundant tasting of cheeses, sausages, seeds and dressings, desserts such as the Christmas cake, the thread or the chocolate log with liquor, along with all kinds of snacks. Various alcoholic beverages such as beers, wines and the typical rompope (Mexican Eggnog) are also consumed during the celebration, which are used to toast with the arrival of the new year.

Once it is midnight, the gunpowder begins to explode, and it is customary to tune in to the Radio Reloj station to listen to the countdown, because when 12 o’clock arrives, the ‘Ave Maria’ is heard and the song ‘El año Viejo’ by Tony Camargo is sung. The assembled people shout ‘Happy New Year!’, They toast, hug, congratulate and wish each other the best for the new year. After that, many young people go dancing with their friends in bars, while the rest of the family stays together until the early hours of the morning.

Germany

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In Germany, parties are common on New Year’s Eve (Silvester). Fireworks are well known, both at the family and municipal level. Every year, Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year’s Eve celebrations in all of Europe, with more than a million people. The most important place is the Brandenburg Gate, where fireworks are launched at midnight. Germans ring in the New Year with a glass of sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne.

Since 1972, every New Year’s Eve, a short comedy entitled Dinner for One has been transmitted by many television channels in English (recorded by RFA television in 1963). A phrase from the sketch, “the same way of all the years,” has become a standard term in Germany.

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Bleigießen (lead pouring) is another of their main customs that incorporates divination with the shapes introduced in cold water made with molten lead. Such traditions include touching the forehead with a chimney sweep or rubbing ash to attribute. At home, families melt lead by holding a flame under a tablespoon. They pour it into a bucket of water and the pattern is said to predict the coming year. A heart/ring shape means an upcoming wedding, a ball means luck will roll your way, and a pig means you’ll have plenty of food.

South Africa 

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In South Africa, it’s about the old and the modern. It is traditional to chuck old furniture out the window and into the street on New Year’s Eve. In today’s practice, this is not as heavily done, replaced by fantastic firework shows and all-night celebrations instead. In fact, Cape Town hosts a special carnival of music, dancing, colorful clothes, and face painting.

According to the Georgian calendar, the New Year in South Africa is observed on its first date on the 1st January. During the New Year season, and particularly on New Years Eve, the passion, dynamism, and bold colors are used to make South Africa the perfect place to observe New Year festivities.

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There are massive stage concerts and parties in South Africa in the midst of New Year’s Eve. For those who want to be part of an extraordinary and memorable New Year’s Eve celebration, South Africa is a great destination. Daytime is normally spent with families, companions and relatives, cooking. In comparison, a significant part of the general public keeps their New Year’s Eve reserved for their loved ones to enjoy. There are big and small-scale New Year’s Eve celebrations everywhere in this region.

A significant majority of the population of South Africa parties during the year, finishing on New Year’s Day in the early morning hours. South African people want to party hard because they are immensely freed from the tight and hectic life on New Years Eve. Some people, such as visitors, also seem to take advantage of it along these lines, and all the national parties like there is no tomorrow.

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One aspect of South Africa’s New Year’s Eve celebration is lavish dinners and lots of songs, dances, and joy all around. The dishes served on New Year’s Eve at banquets or ordinary meals mirror the combination between tradition and the South African festival season.

All cheer and welcome the New Year with joy and enthusiasm after hearing the bells. A part of the general public often celebrates by tossing refrigerators off their balconies and other shots of fuel. In either case, these rituals of shooting a shot and throwing fridges has declined in the present day, since these items can present danger to many persons.

Their music parties are the specialty of South African celebration, so activities such as the Kirstenbosch Gardens New Years Eve Concert and the Rezonance New Years Eve Festival, hosted in Cape Town, have their own meaning and identity that you don’t find anywhere else.

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The annual New Year’s Eve Cape Town Minstrel Carnival festival is said to be a dazzling country-wide event. Its history dates to the 19th century. Arrangements for the Cape Carnival begin well in advance, with minstrel troupes for a great amount of time rehearsing dances, dance moves and parades. There are a number of costume parades in which bold silk fabric, ties, umbrellas and caps are typically present.

Today, up to 10 000 banjo-strumming minstrels are taking to the streets of District Six, winding their approach to Green Point Stadium via the local business area of Cape Town (albeit every year there may be some variation of routes).

Australia

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Australians New Year’s Eve is full of excitement. At midnight, they start to make noise with whistles and rattles, car horns and church bells to ring in the New Year. On the next day, New Year’s Day, many people have picnics and camp out on the beach. Besides, it is a day for outdoor activities such as rodeos, picnic races and surf carnivals.

In the southern hemisphere, it is mid-summer and thousands of people assemble in expectation around the Opera House. The party at 6 pm kicks off with an aerial show and water demonstration. At 9pm, a family-friendly fireworks display begins, and at midnight, the main highlight is the Harbour Light Parade.

Big Australian cities have special celebrations that include parades, concerts and entertainment on New Year’s Eve. For major New Year’s Eve gatherings, celebrities are also welcomed as guests of honor or hosts. New Year’s Eve balls are common and have different themes, such as masquerade, black-tie and formal wear, tropical, gangster and glamour. Prizes are awarded at these events for the most interesting or best-dressed outfits. For the following day, several individuals often prepare their New Year’s resolutions.

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On ship cruises, metropolitan parks, or beaches, many Australians celebrate New Year’s Eve. In their own houses, others hold special events or barbecues. At big festivals in major cities, such as Sydney, public New Year’s Day countdowns are made and are frequently broadcast so that everyone at home can join the festivities. Fireworks are fired to say goodbye to the old year and to greet the new year as the clock hits midnight to mark New Year’s Day.

To express their joy and gratitude for the old and new years, people always embrace, shake hands or kiss one another on the mouth. To celebrate this day, several individuals often toast their glasses and enjoy champagne or wine.

Armenia

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The custom of accepting visitors is one of the most traditional Armenian ones. Typically, people celebrate New Year for one or two days in other countries and then go back to their daily life. In Armenia, on the night of December 31, the New Year festival begins and the celebration continues for a full week. Family members greet each other as the clock reaches 12, drink brandy, wine or champagne, and then the guest-host chain starts.

Throughout the week, people frequent each other’s homes. Even a special chronological order remains. The visit begins, traditionally, for the most respected person. For one, it is the first time that one’s parents, brothers and sisters, then godparents and godchildren enter the house, after uncles and aunts, friends, etc. This is undoubtedly one of New Year’s most special rituals.

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Nobody forgets the presents! A bottle of brandy or pomegranate wine would of course, be the most honourable present. And of course, on the morning of January 1st, children are so excited to see their long-desired presents under the Christmas tree.

You must note that meeting as many family and acquaintances as possible is important in order not to offend anybody. Yes, yes! Exactly! Exactly! If they consider you to be a close person in their families, and you do not frequent their home, people can be insulted.

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A nation that has a special history of welcoming visitors can not do without conventional New Year’s table plates, of course. For Armenian communities, there are certain obligatory dishes and delicacies which are symbolic.

Guests should not leave the table hungry, because as a rule, anything the housewives give should be tried, or they would be profoundly offended. Mistresses are delighted to learn that of everything that they have ever sampled, their dish was the most wonderful.

Other countries traditions

India: On December 25th, everybody goes to the church no matter which religion you support, all in one. 

The Philippines: As the countdown to midnight starts, a lot of children stand ready on the stairs. They bend their knees in suspense as the seconds dwindle and as the last second passes, they enthusiastically jump off the ground as far as they can. Legend has it that they can rise taller in the coming year if they hop far enough.

New Zealand: Banging pots and pans is practiced in New Zealand. What’s more, kite-flying is a tradition there as well. The sight of Matariki, a certain constellation of stars, which was thought to predict a rich harvest, was celebrated by many among the Māori, the inhabitants of New Zealand. Known as pākau, from various trees and plants, kites were made from bark, straw, and fiber, and were flown to get close to the stars. 

Greenland: Many Greenlanders observe New Year’s Eve as part of the Kingdom of Denmark, both when the clock hits twelve in Denmark and when it does so in Greenland. And because there is a four-hour time delay, this means that at 20:00 and at midnight, they greet the new year. So everybody celebrating in Greenland, with four hours to rest, gets to enjoy the fireworks and toast to good luck twice in the same evening.

Thailand: Across Thailand, the new year is celebrated by many in the middle of April, when the temperature is colder than at the end of December. It is also traditional to engage in the three-day Songkran Festival to mark the New Year, an important part of which, inevitably, is a huge water battle.

Any other traditions we should know about? If the country you were raised in does not appear in the list, please tell us in the comments the main traditions there. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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About the author

Tami Pereira

Spanish journalist addicted to adventure. A camera, notebook, pen and an awakened mind. See the extraordinary in the common and the wealth in a vacuum. Go, cover, raise awareness.

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