New Year Traditions From Around the World

Words: Robyn Samuels

Five, four, three, two, one – Happy New Year! There’s nothing more exciting than counting down the new year, welcoming good tidings and remaining curious about what the new year will bring. Some countries might celebrate by sharing a kiss with a loved one, watching fireworks ignite the sky and popping bottles of Champagne, while others have more nuanced New Year traditions associated with good or bad omens.


If you’ve ever been curious about how the rest of the world celebrates this holiday, now’s your chance to learn about some New Year traditions. 


China – Red Envelope

how does China celebrate New Year
Unlike the rest of the world, China doesn’t observe New Year’s on the first of January. They celebrate Chinese New Year or the lunar year between the 21st of January and 10 February, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar – the date changes annually. Each year is represented by one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, each is assigned a natural element (earth, wood, fire, metal and water). Being a 16-day celebration, this holiday includes many ancient traditions. In preparation for the official New Year, it’s customary to spring clean your home at the start of the spring season, however, sweeping the day of New Year is ill-advised, as you’ll be sweeping good luck away.

 People also give friends and family red envelopes with money, the sum of cash should be even and not odd, as this is a bad omen.


Columbia – Potato Russian Roulet


Most people give family members a call or simply well wishes for the year ahead – but Columbians like to do things all little differently. Each family member gets three potatoes placed under their bed – one peeled, one unpeeled and one that has been partially peeled. They then have to pick one from under the bed. Depending on which they pick, they could either get good fortune, experience a bad financial year or if you’re really lucky, you get a mixed bag of both. Think of it as a game of rock, paper, scissors but involving potatoes and your foreseeable future.


Croatia – Avoiding Seafood


Being a coastal country, Croatians love their seafood, with popular traditional dishes including sardines, shellfish mussels and octopus peka usually on the menu, but for New Year’s, they opt for wild boar, roast pork and even rabbit stew. Croatians believe that eating seafood on New Year’s Eve will bring you bad luck and that instead of progressing, you’ll move backwards or sideways, just like crabs and other shellfish do.


Denmark – Jumping off Chair


If you’ve ever experienced the misfortune of breaking crockery, you’ll know that it’s no fun having to clean up broken glass. In Denmark, they purposely break plates on friends’ and family’s doorsteps. Apparently, the more broken porcelain you find on your doorstep, the luckier you’ll be. So next time you accidentally break a plate, think of it as good fortune.

While most moms would normally be outraged by jumping on the furniture, it’s tradition to literally leap into the new year by jumping off of a house chair as the clock strikes twelve – a New Year tradition better known as “hoppe ind i det nye år” by Danish locals.


Ireland –Bread Banging

New Year traditions
Breaking bread is usually associated with spending time with family and friends around the table, but this saying has another meaning in Ireland. The Irish way of celebrating New Year’s involves banging bread against doors and walls. This is apparently done to ward off evil spirits and invite good ones in. The Irish are big believers in luck – think four-leaf clovers, wee men in green clothes, rainbows and a pot of gold. Another interesting New Year tradition in Ireland includes entering your home through the front door and exiting through the back, in true Irish-goodbye style.


Scotland –First Footing

New Year traditions around the world
If you thought southern hospitality was a thing, the Scotts take it to the next level. According to an ancient tradition, Scottish people apparently invite a stranger into their home for a New Year tradition called ‘first footing’. If the first person to set foot into your home is a dark-haired individual, you can expect good luck in the new year, but if the stranger has red hair then you’re likely to have bad luck bestowed upon you. Said dark-haired strangers bring good tidings, as well as a ‘black bun’ – similar to a fruit cake. They also bring a coin for good fortune, bread for nourishment, salt for flavour.

A lump of coal can also be expected – although usually associated with naughty children at Christmas, it symbolises warmth for the Scotts. Lastly, it wouldn’t be a Scottish tradition if whisky wasn’t part of the deal, so a bit of whisky is given for cheer and obviously enjoyed while singing Auld Lang Syne.


South Africa – Braai, Fireworks and More

New Year traditions
South Africa is a country rich in culture with unique holidays, but New Year’s celebrations are relatively conventional. Most families host house parties and celebrate by drinking, braaing or having potluck dinners with family and friends. It’s also common to perform karaoke or watch the annually televised movie, Dinner for One. Outdoor festivities usually include watching fireworks, and in certain cities, it’s common to observe light displays or attend concerts. Since it’s summer this time of year, families that live in coastal cities normally spend the day at the beach and have picnics.

If you are braaing, try these tasty braai recipes.


Spain – Twelve Grapes of Luck

why can't dogs eat grapes and raisins
Eating a bunch of grapes in one sitting is pretty common, but for the Spanish, they stop at just twelve. If you’re wondering why such a specific number, the tradition of las doce uvas de la suerte or eating ‘Twelve Grapes of Luck’, is believed to ward off any evil spirits, and bring good fortune and prosperity. The catch is that you have to eat all twelve grapes within a matter of seconds before the clock strikes midnight. The Spaniards take this ritual so seriously that fruit vendors actually sell seedless grapes for easy and fast consumption.

Another fascinating New Year tradition is that you have to start the year off on the right foot – literally! When the clock strikes midnight, you have to take your first step with your right foot first, but that’s only if you want both love and luck in your life.


USA – Big Ball Drop


If you’ve ever watched Hallmark movies involving holiday romance, you’ll know about the age-old tradition of the ball drop in New York, Times Square. This festive tradition has been done since 1907. Many gather in Times Square and watch the Times Building which is normally lit, there’s usually a giant glass ball that drops from a pole like a sexy fireman. At the last minute before midnight, the ball descends from the highest height.

Learn about traditional desserts from around the world

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