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New Year Traditions From Around the World

How to Have a Happy New Year

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Many New Year customs that we take for granted actually date from ancient times. This year, ring out the old and ring in the new with a New Year tradition—or two!

Make Some Noise

  • In ancient Thailand, guns were fired to frighten off demons.
  • In China, firecrackers routed the forces of darkness.
  • In the early American colonies, the sounds of pistol shots rang through the air.
  • Today, Italians let their church bells peal, the Swiss beat drums, and the North Americans sound sirens and party horns to bid the old year farewell.

Eat Lucky Food

Many New Year's traditions surround food. Here are a few:

  • In the southern US, black-eyed peas and pork foretell good fortune. See our recipe for Good Luck Hoppin' John.
  • Eating any ring-shaped treat (such as a donut) symbolize "coming full circle" and leads to good fortune. In Dutch homes, fritters called olie bollen are served.
  • The Irish enjoy pastries called bannocks.
  • The tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight comes from Spain.
  • In India and Pakistan, rice promises prosperity.
  • Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah tradition.
  • In Swiss homes, dollops of whipped cream, symbolizing the richness of the year to come, are dropped on the floors (and allowed to remain there!)

Drink a Beverage

Although the pop of a champagne cork signals the arrival of the New Year around the world, some countries have their own traditions.

  • Wassail, the Gaelic term for "good health" is served in some parts of England.
  • Spiced "hot pot" is the Scottish version of Wassail. It's customary to drink a glass or two at home before sharing with neighbors.
  • In Holland, toasts are made with hot, spiced wine.

See our Holiday Punch Hints and Recipes!

Give a Gift

New Year's Day was once the time to swap presents.

  • Gifts of gilded nuts or coins marked the start of the new year in Rome.
  • Eggs, the symbol of fertility, were exchanged by the Persians.
  • Early Egyptians traded earthenware flasks.
  • In Scotland, coal, shortbread and silverware are exchanged for good luck.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

In Scotland, the custom of first-footing is an important part of the celebration of Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve Day.

This practice holds that the first foot to cross a threshold after midnight will predict the next year's fortune. Although the tradition varies, those deemed especially fortunate as "first footers" are new brides, new mothers, those who are tall and dark (and handsome?) or anyone born on January 1.

Turn Over a New Leaf

The dawn of a new year is an opportune time to take stock of your life. 

  • Jews who observe Rosh Hashanah make time for personal introspection and prayer, as well as visiting graves.
  • Christian churches hold "watch-night" services, a custom that began in 1770 at Old St. Georges Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
  • The practice of making New Year's resolutions, said to have begun with the Babylonians as early as 2600 B.C., is another way to reflect on the past and plan ahead.

New Year's Folklore

Some customs and beliefs are simply passed down through the ages. Here are some of our favorite age-old sayings and proverbs.

On New Year's Eve, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing.

If New Year's Eve night wind blow south, It betokeneth warmth and growth.

For abundance in the new year, fill your pockets and cupboards today.

If the old year goes out like a lion, the new year will come in like a lamb.

Begin the new year square with every man. (i.e., pay your debts!) –Robert B. Thomas, founder of The Old Farmer's Almanac

So, whether we resolve to return borrowed farm equipment (as did the Babylonians) or drop a few pounds, we're tapping into an ancient and powerful longing for a fresh start! 

Pondering a New Year's resolution and a new start? Check out our blog on How to Make New Year's Resolutions.

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Comments

I remember having a tradition

By nancy o on December 10

I remember having a tradition of putting all the gold & silver I owned under the Christmas tree on New Years eve for good luck & prosperity for the new year. But no one can tell me where I learned this "tradition". Does anyone else do this and can they tell me where this came from?

We haven't heard of this

By Almanac Staff on December 15

We haven't heard of this tradition, but there are many associated with the New Year--traditions observed by families, towns, regions, countries, etc. There are similar customs in which coins are given to people (especially children) to wish them luck and good fortune, often for the New Year.

This helped me with my New

By Josie B on November 30

This helped me with my New Years report! Also, instead of wine, one year my cousin suggested grape juice at midnight. That way, the kids could do it to (I am a kid, though, but I was too young to appreciate it.)

in Ecuador we buy some a

By pepa

in Ecuador we buy some a anios viejos its a tradicion in our country! come to Ecuador its a beautiful place!

My husband's tradition is

By Louise Barratt

My husband's tradition is that the first person to cross your threshold must tall, dark, male & carrying silver (coins) for wealth, alcohol (for food) and coal (for heat)for the new year. He is from Skipton, Yorkshire, England and these were his parents traditions as well.

I would like to know the

By Debbie Powles

I would like to know the meaning ov the first initial ov the person that crosses ur door after midnight . I know sum like I.e - k-kindness d-death s-sorrow w-wealth t-tears . Can anybody help we're to find the rest ov the alphabet out plz ?

This helped me a lot.

By Hollie Skeen

This helped me a lot.

Have you ever heard of

By Debbi

Have you ever heard of rolling a head of cabbage in the door? To bring wealth into the home for the new year. Also, washing your face with silver coins is for good luck as well.

Where did the New Year's

By Jean Shiner

Where did the New Year's pretzel come from?

Hi, Jean, I believe it's a

By Catherine Boeckmann

Hi, Jean, I believe it's a German tradition. Similar to the ring-shaped food mentioned above, it's a never-ending shape that symbolizes good luck.

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