27 Ways New Years Eve is Celebrated Around the World
Greetings from Thailand! I’ve been backpacking throughout Southeast Asia, and will be celebrating the New Year on the beautiful island of Phuket. In the spirit of international travel, I’d like to share with you some of the different ways in which the world celebrates New Years Eve.
First, a fun fact: The first country in the world to experience the New Year is Samoa, at 5am December 31st EST. The last country to enter the New Year is American Samoa, at 7am January 1st EST. The independent nation of Samoa and American Samoa lie approximately 80 kilometers away from each other, but will celebrate the New Year 22 hours apart!
Most large cities have a fireworks display when the clock strikes midnight, evinced by the photos I’ve posted below. There are, however, some other ways that people from different cultures around the world commemorate the New Year. I adapted the information on the countries below from articles by Business Insider, FatherTimes.net, and PolicyMic.
Argentina: In Argentina, people eat beans on New Year’s Eve for good luck in their careers. Some also believe that if they carry a suitcase around their house, they will travel more in the year to come.
Belgium: In Belgium, children write New Year’s letters to their parents and godparents. They decorate the cards with fancy paper complete with cherubs, angels, and colored roses and then read them aloud.
Brazil: Brazilians wear all white clothing to ward off evil spirits on New Years. They also jump over seven ocean waves (one for each day of the week) and throw flowers into the sea as an offering to Iemanja, the goddess of the sea.
Burma: The Burmese New Year, which is based on the Fixed Zodiac system, falls on or around April 16. Thingyan is the traditional Burmese New Year’s festival. It lasts for three days and during that time everyone must get wet, for water acts as a soul purifier, and the Burmese can begin the New Year with a cleansed soul.
Chile: Chileans eat a spoonful of lentils at midnight and put money at the bottom of their shoes to bring prosperity in the New Year.
China: Though celebrations to honor the Gregorian New Year are held in major Chinese cities such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, the Chinese Lunar New Year does not happen until late January or early February. Traditions vary across China, but many include cleaning the Chinese people cleaning their homes to get rid of bad luck, buying presents for loved ones, and children receiving money in red paper envelopes.
Cuba: In Cuba people circle their houses with a suitcase when the clock strikes at midnight to bring traveling opportunities in the New Year.
Denmark: The Danish prepare an evening meal that ends with a special dessert known as Kransekage, a steep-sloped cone-shaped cake decorated with fire crackers and flags. They throw dishes on someone’s doorstep to assure that they will have many friends in the year ahead.
Ecuador: In Ecuador, people burn effigies of their enemies. These life-sized dummies are made from newspapers and pieces of wood, and at midnight, everyone gathers outside their homes to burn them together.
Estonia: Some people in Estonia believe that they should eat seven, nine, or twelve meals on New Year’s Eve. With each meal consumed, it is believed that the person gains the strength of the corresponding number of people the following year. Part of the meal is left unfinished for the spirits or ancestors who visit the house on New Year’s Eve.
Finland: A Finnish new year tradition is called molybdomancy, which is the act of telling New Year’s fortunes by melting tin in a tiny pan on the stove and then quickly throwing it into a bucket of cold water.The blob of metal is then analyzed in the candlelight to see what fate will befall the person in the New Year.
Germany: The German people eat jam-filled doughnuts made with or without liquor fillings on New Year’s Eve, as well as a tiny marzipan pig as a token of good luck. The entire country also loves to watch the 1920s British Cabaret play Dinner For One that is broadcast on German television stations in black and white each year.
Greece: It’s believed that hanging an onion, or “kremmida” on your door on New Year’s eve as a symbol of rebirth in the coming year. The following morning, parents traditionally tap their children on the head with the kremmida to wake them up before church. Another important tradition is eating Vasilópita, a cake with a coin or another small object hidden inside. Whoever receives the slice with the coin gets good luck for the next year.
Iran: The “Persian New Year” or Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the year for the Iranian calendar.
Ireland: Single women of Ireland place sprigs of mistletoe under their pillows on New Year’s night in the hope that it will bring them better luck and a future husband.
Japan: On New Year’s Eve in Japan, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to welcome Toshigami, the New Year’s God. The Japanese also clean their homes and send thank-you cards called nengajo that wish a Happy New Year and give thanks to friends and relatives.
Laos: Lao people celebrate New Year according to the ancient Hindu calendar. The festival lasts for three days and falls on 13, 14 or 15 April on the Gregorian calendar. This period is known as Pimai. The festival coincides with the end of the dry season and the start of the rains. It is seen as a day of rebirth and purification.
Macedonia: In Macedonia, New Year’s Eve is celebrated both on December 31st as well as on January 14 according to the Macedonian Orthodox (also known as the Julian or Lunar) Calendar. Fireworks happen throughout the day on the 31st, and Macedonian children receive gifts from relatives on the 14th.
The Netherlands: Every year, the Dutch participate in carbide shooting, a prohibited activity where teenagers blow up milk cans. For those who are less inclined to amateur explosive devices, the New Year’s Dive is an opportunity for thousands of swimmers to half-nakedly brave the freezing waters of the North Sea.
Philippines: Filipinos enjoy wearing polka dots on New Year’s Eve, while carrying coins in their pockets. Round objects signify prosperity, so many families eat and display round fruits such as oranges and grapefruits.
Rosh Hashanah: The Jewish New Year is said to be a day of judgment, when God inscribes the fate of every person for the upcoming year in the Book of Life or the Book of Death. It takes place over two days in early autumn and usually involves synagogue services and a large meal with family and friends.
Russia: Russians write down their wishes on a piece of paper, burn it, put the ashes in a glass of champagne, and drink it down. Other traditions include a New Year’s tree and a Santa-like figure named Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), who distributes gifts to children with his granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden).
Scotland: The Scots bring presents to their friends and neighbors. If you are “the first foot” to enter a person’s house, you have to come bearing gifts, which are usually small tokens, such as bread and whiskey. Bonfires and large fireballs are also common traditions. We also have to thank the Scots for the famous New Years song, “Auld Lang Syne.” Poet Robert Burns’ song is played around the world on this day, even in non-Anglophone countries.
Serbia: New Year’s Eve is celebrated like Christmas in Serbia, where it is believed Santa Clause (or Deda Mraz) visits houses to leave presents under the family spruce tree. Serbians then celebrates the “Serbian New Year” on January 13, according to the Julian calendar.
South Africa: In Johannesburg, it’s common to throw old furniture and appliances, like TVs and radios, out the window.
Spain: Spaniards eat a grape with each of the twelve chimes of the midnight countdown while making a wish.
Thailand: In Thailand, a special three–day water festival on April 13–15 marks Songkran, the Buddhists’ celebration of the New Year. Parades feature huge statues of Buddha that spray water on passersby. At Songkran, people tie strings around each other’s wrists to show their respect. A person can have as many as 25 or 30 strings on one wrist, each from a different person. The strings are supposed to be left on until they fall off naturally.
And who can ignore some of the best cities in the world for fireworks displays on New Years Eve? Presenting….