New Year Traditions From Around the World

How to Have a Happy New Year

Victoria Doudera
New Years Fireworks


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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 pint” is the Scottish version of Wassail. Traditionally, the Scots drank to each others’ prosperity and also offered this warm drink to neighbors along with a small gift.
  • 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 were traditionally 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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As a Scot, born and bred in

As a Scot, born and bred in Scotland, and having lectured around the country on Scottish traditions, I have never come across the "traditional" drink of spiced "hot pot", nor has my husband, a highlander. The traditional drink is always whisky - unless you're going for alcohol free, when it's IrnBru. When first footing you take coal (always be warm), shortbread (always be fed) and whisky (always be in good company). Exchange silverware? Bannocks are not partyies, they're nearer to a scone and are generally accepted to be Scots, not Irish. I have to assume the other "traditions" you quote re as untrue.

Hot Pint

We apologize for a typo. “Hot pot” should have said “Hot pint.” This was a “warmer” for “first-footers” in Scotland dating back to the 1800s. Traditionally, the Scottish families prepared a hot pint or wassail bowl. Hot pint usually consisted of a mixture of spiced and sweetened ale with an infusion of whisky.

To note, we often reference age-old traditions, not necessarily modern practices, as part of the rich fabric of today’s observances. As well as referencing the archives of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been published since 1792, during the Colonial era, we reference The Social Life in Scotland by Rev. Charles Rogers, printed in Edinburgh, 1884.  Another source is The Telegraph’s Christmas Cookbook (2013 edition) which has the recipe for “Het Pint” or “Hot Pint,” a traditional Scottish drink.

And, it doesn’t hurt that one of our editors lives in Great Britain as do some of our partners!

My grandfathers New Years Eve tradition

My grandfather was Irish. Every NYE he would "put coins out" on the front porch. If they were there or not in the morning it had some meaning. Has anyone heard of this tradition?

I remember having a tradition

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

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

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

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

My family is Ecuadorian.

My family is Ecuadorian. What are anios viejos?

My husband's tradition is

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

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.

This helped me a lot.

Have you ever heard of

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.

Our family is polish and they

Our family is polish and they use to wash there hands and feet at midnight. Suppose to mean you money all year

Washing with money on New Years day

My family is polish too. We always wash with money on New Year's Day. I am bless, even my 13 grandchildren carry on the tradition today. Of course, I had to update the tradition by adding that they split the money among themselves so they start the New Year wealthy!

Wash face with money

My Ukrainian family wash their face with money - four generation in the US. Not all of my cousins do this however. We have not come across any other people who have this tradition. I was told it was so that we will not know poverty in the new year, and it has always been true. Nice to see other's have this odd tradition.

My family is Czech and

My family is Czech and Austrian. We wash with money on New Year's Day as well. I was trying to find the origin of this tradition, but it seems like it's not from just one region.

Where did the New Year's

Where did the New Year's pretzel come from?

Hi, Jean, I believe it's a

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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