festivals and traditions

New Year all over the world

The first place on earth to receive the first sun rays on 1st January 2011 will be Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, a Pacific Ocean atoll.

On the night before, however, the whole planet, as seen from the above, probably will look like a continuous display of fireworks, from the east to the west.

Traditions about New Year celebrations are not everywhere the same. So while in Europe we are all used to wearing something red and eating lentils on New Year’s eve, both meant to bring good luck, and everywhere in the world people watch fireworks at midnight, there are still a lot of different traditions, many of them really peculiar, about the way people all over the world spend the last night of the year.

In London the clock tower of Westminster, better known as the Big Ben, strikes 13 times at midnight on New Year’s eve! Watch this video to have a spectacular view of the 7 and a half minutes of firework display over the London Eye:


In Scotland New Year’s eve is called Hogmanay. While the origins of this name are unknown, there is a peculiar tradition that Scottish people have at New Year’s eve called “first-footing“. After midnight, neighbours start visiting each other bringing with them some coal, some bread, some money and some greenery as presents. These presents were all meant to bring good luck: the coal so that the house would always be warm, the bread to make sure the family would have food to eat in the coming year, money to grant the family an income, and the greenery to wish them all a long life. On leaving, the visitor would take with him some ashes, which symbolized the departure of the old year. If the first visitor after midnight was a tall, dark and handsome man this was considered very lucky.

In Wales New Year’s eve is called Calenning. In the past people would exchange gifts and money for good luck.

If you are in New York on New Year’s eve you can’t wish to be elsewhere than in Times Square to welcome the New Year. The most famous tradition in the United States in fact is the dropping of the New Year ball from top of a skyscraper in Times Square, New York. The streets are flooded with people from all over the world who have come to watch the Waterford Crystal ball lit by 600 bulbs start its descent to the ground exactly at 11:59 p.m., and get there at midnight sharp.

In the USA people eat black-eyed peas served with some green vegetables or cornbread instead of lentils. The peas, as the lentils in our tradition, represent coins, the green vegetables represent paper money while cornbread represents gold. Moreover, for luck every day in the year ahead, one must eat at least 365 black-eyed peas!

Did you know that giving clocks or watches as gifts, or buying books is considered bad luck? Using the number 8, however, will make you prosper.

In Canada and in other northern countries of the world people enjoy the “polar bear swim“, that is, a swim in ice-cold water to welcome the New Year.

In Japan people have “forget-the-year parties” in December, during  which they say goodbye to the problems of the previous year and prepare for a new beginning. At midnight Buddhist temples sound their gongs 108 times, symbolizing the letting go of 108 types of human weakness. At each gong people have to laugh to drive away bad spirits.

In Spain people eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each month of the coming year, hoping this will bring them luck.

Mexicans share the tradition of the sweet bread with a coin hidden in the dough, as well as the Spanish tradition of eating a grape while listening to the twelve strokes of the bell during the New Year countdown, making a wish with each grape. Another sweet Mexican tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events of the old year and burn it before midnight, while also giving thanks for the good things they have had.

In Denmark people throw old dishes at the doors of their friends’ houses: can you imagine opening the door of your house on New Year’s day? 😉

In Holland Christmas trees are burnt on the streets, again symbolizing the letting go of the past and welcoming of the new. People also believe eating donuts will bring them good luck.

According to tradition in Greece St. Basil fills the children’s shoes with presents at midnight. People also make a cake (called St. Basil’s cake) containing a coin. Who receives the piece of cake with the coin will be very lucky in the new year.

In southern countries, like Brazil for example, people have a swim in the sea while watching the fireworks. They usually dress in white on that night, to bring good luck into the new year.

Australian cities are famous for their fireworks displays.

In Ecuador they build a dummy and fill it with old newspaper and firecrackers. The dummy, symbolizing an event occurred during the previous year, is then placed somewhere outside the home and is lit up at midnight by the members of the family. He represents something that happened during the last year. At midnight each family lights the dummy, which is burnt again as a symbol of letting go of the past and welcoming the new year.

The most famous tune at New Year’s eve is “Auld Lang Syne“, sung nearly all over the world. It was originally an old Scottish song by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. The meaning of the words “Auld Lang Syne” is literally “old long since” and refers to old times passed and old friends that may have been forgotten, promising not to forget them. The tradition of playing and singing this song on New Year’s eve was born in New York City in 1929, when it was performed for the first time at a New Year’s eve ball. From that moment on a tradition was born, and the song was played every New Year’s eve.

You surely remember the tune… can you sing its refrain? 😉

Do you know of other traditions to share with us?

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