New Year's Traditions From Around the World

How to Have a Happy New Year Anywhere

By Victoria Doudera
December 14, 2020
Grapes New Year

Many New Year’s traditions 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! From singing “Auld Lang Syne” to eating black-eyed peas for good luck to eating 12 grape at midnight, discover different ways to celebrate the start of 2021! 

Make Some Noise

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

  • In ancient Thailand, guns were fired 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’s tradition to burn effigies of famous people to destroy bad “juju” from 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.


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.

See our Holiday Punch Hints and Recipes for ideas.

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, is an indication of 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 both friends and strangers with warm hospitality and of course 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 our blog on How to Make New Year’s Resolutions.


Reader Comments

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All things consitered...

I think we can all agree that the year 2020 has been troubling, and here's to the hope that 2021 will be better.

In 1980s Miami, we ate the 12 grapes

In the small city of Sweetwater, Florida, back in the 80s, on New Years when the clock struck 12, we ate 12 grapes, drank a little sparkling wine, and grandmother Ramona Lliraldi would toss out a bucket of water. Likewise, on my maternal side, grandmother Agueda Jimenez would do the same.These were traditions carried over from Spain, to Cuba, and into the United States.

Hogmanay Traditions

I'm the Chaplain for Clan Leslie Society international and as for "First Footing", it was bad luck in the northeast of Scotland to have a woman or a redhead of either sex be the first person to come across your threshold after midnight on 1/1. An actual "industry" of First Footers arose - dark haired men carrying coal, dark bread, a piece of peat and whiskey - who were paid to be the first visitors to homes in order to ensure good luck in the new year. My husband is dark haired so we make him go outside and come in again right after midnight. I'm a redheaded woman, so..... ;0}

The Hub and I sleep through

The Hub and I sleep through it. We Congratulate each other on the 1st for making it through another year and waking up, for the beginning of the next...

My New Year Tradition

I watch the count down, blow up fireworks, and cross my fingers hoping that the police won't catch us. If we do escape the police, we'll have good luck for the rest of the day...

Southern New Year Tradition

This article mentioned that it was a custom to eat pork and black-eyed peas on New Years Day. I have always heard that this tradition evolved form Sherman's March through Georgia during the Civil War. Because refrigeration wasn't available, armies were often forced to live off of the land so to speak; confiscating supplies from the locals (see plunder and pillage). The Union Army was no exception and their plight was doubly dire because virtually all of the rail road lines that could have brought supplies were destroyed. When the Union Army came upon a farm, they would often take the hogs and chickens for their own use. In order to lighten their load, they would often butcher the hogs on site leaving only the heads and entrails, thus the tradition of eating hog jowls came about. Most people have a better cut now days. The black-eyed peas are for luck because they are one of the few things that the Union Army left behind. Most of the Union soldiers had never seen black-eyed peas before and because of the large black spot on them thought that they were rotten. The New Year’s Day meal is rounded out with greens. They are traditionally collard greens, but some use mustard or turnip greens. The greens symbolize money.

New year tradition

Has anyone ever heard of eating pickled herring at midnight will keep money in your pockets all year?

Eating herring and sitting on a silver dollar

My family are Scandinavian and German, we always ate herring at midnight sitting on a silver dollar. The herring being somewhat silver in color represents a silver coin. It's suppose to bring you good luck and wealth .

My tradition

My tradition is on new years eve is to watch the count down on TV.

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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?

Ano Viejo

According to Wikipedia this is what it is. The spelling is different but this is all that comes up.

What is Ano Viejo?
Año Viejo is a traditional holiday in Ecuador. On New Year's Eve, people make statues that represent someone or something irritating or disappointing...failed goals, hated politicians...They tape a note to it explaining why it must be burned and what needs to change.

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.

Rolling cabbage in the front door on New Years Day

My Mid-western, (by way of Jamestown in 1624), Irish/English family had the tradition that as soon as you awoke on New Year's Day, the entire family should proceed to roll the cabbage to be eaten that day in corned-beef & cabbage, with Black-eyed peas and collards as side dishes. Everyone helped roll and it had to be rolled through the entire house,(every room), to bring good luck and wealth to the family, home and all that helped. This eventually evolved into "Kicking the cabbage" in a household of football, soccer, and other sports athletes who always seemed to be in a hurry even on a holiday. Fresh seafood, oysters in particular, have been added over the years as the family moved south to the Gulf Coast.

Where did the New Year's

Where did the New Year's pretzel come from?

Hi, Jean, I believe it's a

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

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.