New Year's Traditions From Around the World

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How to Have a Happy New Year Anywhere

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Many New Year’s traditions that we take for granted date from ancient times. This year, ring out the old and ring in the new with a New Year tradition—or two! From singing “Auld Lang Syne” to eating black-eyed peas for good luck, discover different ways to celebrate the start of 2024! 

Make Some Noise

Making a lot of noise and light—from fireworks to gunshots to church bells—seems to be a favorite New Year’s pastime across the globe.

  • In Thailand, it was once tradition to fire guns to frighten off demons.
  • In China, firecrackers routed the forces of darkness.
  • In Denmark, they throw plates and glasses against each others’ front doors to banish bad spirits.
  • In Ecuador, it is tradition to burn the effigies of famous people to destroy bad “juju” from the past year and start fresh.
  • In the early American colonies, the sound of pistol shots rang through the air.
  • In the United States today, many watch the ball drop in New York’s Times Square. 
  • In other countries, many folks wait for the church bells or the chimes of clock towers to ring out.
fireworks in the night sky on NYE
Fireworks are a popular New Year’s Eve tradition.

Eat Lucky Food

Many New Year’s traditions involve food. Here are a few:

  • In Spain, people attempt to eat 12 grapes during these 12 strokes of midnight! Tradition says that if they succeed before the chimes stop, they will have good luck for all 12 months of the coming year.
  • In the southern US, black-eyed peas and pork foretell good fortune. See our recipe for Hoppin’ John!
  • In Scotland—where Hogmanay is celebrated—Scots also hold bonfire ceremonies where people parade while swinging giant fireballs on poles!
  • Eating any ring-shaped treat (such as a doughnut) symbolizes “coming full circle” and leads to good fortune. In Dutch homes, fritters called olie bollen are served.
  • The Irish enjoy pastries called bannocks.
  • In India and Pakistan, rice promises prosperity.
  • Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) 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!

Have a Drink

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

  • Wassail, a punch-like drink named after 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 Spain, Cava (a sparkling white wine) is often served to guests for making toasts.

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, December 31 is known as Hogmanay. Along with fireworks and fireworks, “First footing” (or the “first foot” in the house after midnight) is still common across Scotland. The first person to cross the threshold into one’s home, called the first footer, indicates the year to come.

Although the tradition varies, if the first footer is tall and dark, the year will be a good one. Of course, the entire spirit of a Hogmanay party is to welcome friends and strangers with warm hospitality and lots of kissing all around!

Read more about Hogmanay.

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 How to Make New Year’s Resolutions.

About The Author

Victoria Doudera

Victoria Doudera is an American politician who has served as a member of the Maine House of Representatives since December 2018. She currently represents Maine's 41st House district. Outside of politics, she has worked as a writer and real estate broker. Read More from Victoria Doudera

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