When it comes to different cultures and their traditions around the world, it seems that no two are the same. But one thing that seems to be commonplace in most cultures is the celebration of New Year’s Eve.
In western culture, New Year’s traditions consist of excitedly counting down the seconds, kissing at the stroke of midnight and fireworks erupting overhead into the night sky. It’s a celebration of the closing of an old chapter and the highly anticipated opening of a new one.
With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, this got us wondering how other countries ring in the new year. From eating twelve grapes at midnight to throwing pomegranates from a balcony, read on to find out some of the weird and wonderful New Year’s traditions from around the globe.
Why do we celebrate New Year’s?
First of all, it’s worth understanding why we celebrate the new year at all. It seems that the human race has always recognised the significance of the new year, with early settlers celebrating mother nature and the earth’s varying cycles, celebrating the lengthening of days, the ‘rebirth’ of the sun and the thriving of crops once again after a long, dark winter.
As time progressed and with the establishment of the Julian calendar, January 1st was eventually coined as the ‘first’ day of the year rather than the arrival of spring in March. Although this date is the most widely accepted around the world, a minority of other cultures have their own calendrical conventions and as such celebrate New Year on a different day.
Fast forward to modern-day and the new year is still widely celebrated the world over, with celebrations revolving around leaving the past behind and looking forward to a clean slate; a chance to break bad habits and achieve new goals.
New Year’s traditions around the world
New Year’s Eve celebrations in Turkey go off with a splat! At the stroke of midnight, locals drop pomegranates off their balconies or smash them on their doorsteps. The bigger the splat, the more fruitful (no pun intended) the year is going to be.
“New Year's Eve holds much significance for Turks. They love to gather with friends and family around a table full of food, traditions and superstitions. One of the most unique New Year’s traditions in Turkey is smashing a pomegranate on the floor in front of the main door at midnight. After that, families share pomegranates seeds at the table. This quirky superstition is believed to bring a prosperous next twelve months.”
Ani also told us about some of the other New Year’s customs in Turkey.
“Other traditions for this special night include wearing red underwear (quite surprising for a rather conservative country!) and sprinkling salt on the front doorstep. During the three New Year's Eves I have spent in Istanbul, I took part in the traditions of smashing the pomegranates and sharing the seeds and wearing red underwear (since we have this exact same tradition in my home country, Spain, too!).”
In Filipino culture, circles are a symbol of prosperity, so wearing them on New Year’s Eve is thought to bring good fortune in the coming year. But it doesn’t stop there, with some people in the Philippines also keeping coins in their pockets and eating round-shaped foods to maximise their chances of a good year.
Ryazan is a British-Filipina travel writer living in the UK, blogging about her travels at Everything Zany. She told us a bit about the Philippines’ age-old symbolism of circles and how it ties in with the country’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.
“New Year in the Philippines is one of the most celebrated occasions in the country. It symbolises a new and fresh start for the upcoming year. In Filipino culture, it is a common New Year’s Eve tradition to wear something with polka dots, as circles symbolise wealth and money.
“As Filipinos, we also love serving Media Noche (a New Year’s Eve ‘midnight feast’) for the whole family, where the centrepiece of every table is a collection of twelve round-shaped foods. It is also customary to hang a few bunches of grapes on every door frame, again to attract good fortune and wealth.”
Ryazan also told us about other New Year’s traditions in the Philippines as well as what her own family gets up to.
“Our family always celebrates New Year’s Eve with a big bang, blasting music and making lots of noise when the clock strikes midnight to cast away all the bad luck. We also love to throw coins as if it’s confetti inside our house to attract prosperity for the coming year. It's also tradition not to serve anything with chicken, as this is believed to bring bad luck.”
In Spain, there are various New Year’s Eve traditions as well as New Year’s Day too. One of the more notable customs is to eat twelve grapes – one for each month of the year - at the stroke of midnight in time with each chime of the clock. Some locals will even venture down to the local town square to eat their grapes together and pop bottles of Cava.
Sarah explains this tradition in more detail as well as some of Spain’s other New Year’s traditions over on her blog, Jet Setting Fools.
“There are New Year celebrations in Spain in all the major cities and in some of the smaller cities too. There are large festivals in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Granada. The New Year celebrations in Spain are highlighted by outdoor gatherings (usually in the main square), fireworks and fun New Year’s traditions.
“There are numerous New Year’s traditions – like drinking bubbly Cava wine to celebrate at midnight and wearing red underwear for luck in love in the upcoming year. The most popular tradition, however, is eating grapes on New Year’s Eve.
“On New Year’s Day in Spain, the tradition is to eat lentils. The dish, which is usually served as a stew with spicy chorizo, is said to bring good luck, wealth and prosperity. It also happens to be a good hangover cure, which we doubt is just a coincidence!”
Colombia has numerous New Year’s traditions, some of which are similar to those in Spain and other Latin American countries. One unique custom, however, is the tradition to run around the block at midnight with an empty suitcase. Why? To ensure the year ahead is full of travel.
In a Tampa Bay Times article, writer Saundra details what this was like when staying with her husband’s Colombian family over New Year.
“On New Year's Eve, the whole family readied their empty suitcases. After a feast and then fireworks over the lake, we counted down to midnight. Firecrackers burst throughout the resort; the family hugged and kissed, and everyone ate a dozen grapes, one for every month. And then we were joined by whole families spilling out of their front doors to take off running with their suitcases.
“‘Feliz Año!’ everyone called. I now understood why my husband becomes so homesick at this time of year.”
With a Spanish heritage too, Brazil’s New Year’s Eve traditions are shared with many other South American countries, however, one of the most prevalent customs is wearing coloured underwear. But rather than just donning any colour, the colour you choose should reflect what you are seeking in the coming year.
For a bit of extra luck in the new year, you should also make sure your clothing is white as this is thought to bring a year of peace and serenity.
In the Czech Republic, many people flock to the country’s largest towns and cities for a New Year’s Eve party like no other, or alternatively, families get away to a secluded mountain hut to ring in the new year with their loved ones.
After having a traditional New Year’s Eve dinner, which usually consists of fish soup, potato salad and breaded carp, everyone cuts an apple in half and studies its core to see how happy and healthy the coming year is going to be. If the seeds are shaped like a star, it means that everyone will get together next year in happiness and health. A four-pointed cross, however, isn’t so lucky, and is thought to mean someone at the table may fall ill, or worse…
Since the ancient Greeks, onions have been a symbol of growth and rebirth, so it comes as no surprise that they have a place in Greece’s New Year’s Eve traditions. Families will hang an onion (or pomegranates in some areas) on their front door to ward off evil spirits and bring luck. In the morning, families will bring the onion inside and tap it on their children’s heads to wake them up to bring them extra luck. The onion is then kept inside to bring everyone health and longevity.
Greece’s traditions on New Year’s Eve tend to surround luck, with many families playing the lottery and card games together on New Year’s Eve. According to the Greek Reporter, whoever enters your home first on New Year’s Day can determine how much luck you will have that year.
“You usually choose who to invite first, depending on whether you consider him or her a lucky person. And if you are invited, you have to enter the house with the right foot first. Usually, Greeks want children to enter their home first, since children are pure of heart and innocent. Many Greeks invite nephews, nieces and grandchildren and they give them the ‘good hand’, which can be money, toys or sweets.”
China has its own calendrical system which determines the new year, with the sacred day usually falling on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Although the country’s New Year’s Eve doesn’t fall on the 31st of December like most others around the world, it doesn’t make it any less of a celebration!
What’s so intriguing about China and its traditions is that they have been around since the birth of its culture, with these sacred beliefs and legends still being upheld today. One of the most interesting New Year’s Eve traditions of China is to paint your front door and windows red or decorate them with red lanterns and spring scrolls. This is because red is a lucky colour in China and is also thought to ward off Nian, a mythical monster said to terrorise villages on New Year’s Eve.
One of the more bizarre traditions on this list, one of Switzerland’s New Year’s Eve traditions consists of dropping a dollop of ice cream or cream on the floor.
“If your ice cream falls to the floor in Switzerland, there's no need to be upset,” says Smarter Travel. “In fact, the Swiss purposefully drop their ice cream on the floor on New Year's Eve to bring on a year of abundance and (hopefully) more ice cream.”
New Year’s Eve is the biggest holiday in Russia, with a common philosophy being that the way you spend New Year is how the rest of your year will go. With lots of traditions surrounding this big event, there is one in particular that Russia is known for: writing your wish down, setting the paper alight, putting the remaining paper or ashes in a glass of champagne and drinking it.
Fun Russian blogger Viktoria explains how her family would celebrate New Year’s Eve and take part in this fun tradition.
“Every year since I was little, my family would start the day by getting ready for the big celebration, my mother would invent new recipes in the kitchen, my dad would put the New Year’s lights up and I would run around stores looking for accidentally forgotten ingredients.
“Between 10-11pm we set the table, sit down and give a farewell to the old year. Very often families turn their TVs on to listen to the President’s speech on New Year’s Eve. The President’s speech is usually followed by the chimes strike from Kremlin.
“Now, here is the most interesting and magic moment of the celebration – you make a wish while chimes are striking for New Year and it will come true! There are a couple of ways to do it. First, you can make a wish when the chimes are striking midnight and then have a sip of Champagne or sparkling wine. Second, you can write down your wish on a tiny piece of paper while the Kremlin chimes are striking midnight, then burn it, soak it in a glass of Champagne and then drink it.”
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