19 New Year's Traditions From Around the World
December 30, 2023
Millions of Americans gather around their television sets (or on the streets of Times Square, despite freezing temps) to watch the ball drop at the stroke of midnight each year. Kicking off in 1907 to ring in January 1908, New York Times owner Adolph Ochs created the event to draw attention to the Times’s new headquarters, and it’s been an annual spectacle and one of the most popular New Year’s Eve celebrations ever since.
“In Brazil, people usually go to the beach since it’s the summer there,” says Hudson Bohr, a Brazilian photographer based in NYC. “Immediately after midnight, you’re supposed to jump seven waves while making seven wishes.” The tradition is rooted in paying homage to Yemanja, the goddess of water. “Before you get in the water, you’re supposed to wear all white, as it symbolizes purity,” he explains.
The Spanish start off their new year by eating 12 grapes, which symbolize each strike of the clock. The tradition of las doce uvas de la suerte started in the late 19th century and is believed to ward off evil while boosting your chances of a prosperous and lucky new year. However, this will work only if you manage to eat all of the grapes in a matter of seconds since they need to be gone by the time the clock finishes striking midnight.
“Back in Bombay we’d make an effigy of an ‘old man’ that symbolized the old year and burn it at midnight,” says Stephanie Fernandes, an associate creative director at BBDO San Francisco. The burning symbolizes the passing of grievances from the old year and makes space for a new year to be born. “Everyone would gather around singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and then it would turn into a little party. Bombay is very cosmopolitan and was home to people of various faiths; therefore, we’d have a ton of different festivals, but this was one that united across ages and faiths.”
Here's a New Year's Eve appetizer idea: People in Japan kick off the New Year by eating a warm bowl of soba noodles. The tradition dates back to the Kamakura period and is tied to a Buddhist temple giving out the noodles to the poor. Because the long thin noodles are firm yet easy to bite, it is believed eating them symbolizes a literal break away from the old year.
While the notion of drinking wine in France is about as groundbreaking as florals for spring, the French up the ante and go all out on Champagne to celebrate the New Year. There is usually plenty of dancing and party hopping, but the food choices, however, remain the same: sparkling wines are paired with oysters, turkey, goose, or a Cornish hen.
“January 1 is actually Haitian Independence Day,” says Olivier Joseph, a graduate student at Pritzker School of Medicine in Chicago. Because of that, there's an important New Year’s traditional meal associated with the holiday. “We eat pumpkin soup, soup joumou, because it was a delicacy that enslaved Black people were not allowed to have. We often go to other people’s houses and bring some of our soup and swap for some of theirs—everyone makes it a little different.”
Chucking plates at your friends usually signals a conversation gone very wrong. In Denmark, however, New Year’s Eve traditions like this bring your loved ones the best luck. Tradition has it that the more broken kitchenware you accumulate on your door step, the better off you’ll be.
Freezing temps don’t keep Canadians from starting the new year with a winter favorite sport—ice fishing. According to Global News, families will rent heated huts and cooking equipment so that they can enjoy their feast with loved ones on the spot.
On New Year’s Eve, families in the Philippines make sure to serve 12 round fruits, like apples, grapes, and plums, which are believed to represent prosperity due to their shape, which mirrors coins. As for the lucky number, each fruit represents one month out of the year.
In Mexico families gather to make New Year’s Eve food—specifically tamales, which are corn dough stuffed with meat, cheese, and veggies all wrapped in husks—and then hand them out to loved ones on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, the warm pockets are often served with menudo, a traditional Mexican soup made from cow’s stomach.
Not only are onions a kitchen staple, they can also bring you good luck for the year ahead. In Greece it’s tradition to hang an onion outside your door. Believed to symbolize fertility and growth (thanks to its ability to sprout on its own), the onion is hung on the door after church service on New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Eve, Colombian households have a tradition, called agüero, of placing three potatoes under each family member’s bed—one peeled, one not, and the last one only partially. At midnight each person grabs for one with eyes closed and depending on the potato they select, can either expect a year of good fortune, financial struggle, or a mix of both.
To ward off evil spirits, families in Ireland make way for a healthy and prosperous New Year by banging loaves of Christmas bread against the walls and doors throughout the home.
Norway and Denmark
Kransekake, a traditional ringed cake often made with at least 18 layers, is eaten in both Denmark and Norway on New Year’s Eve. The sugary layers, which look like cookies, are held together with a tasty royal icing.
In Italy, it's considered good luck to be wearing red undergarments as the ball drops. How and when this practice started is disputed, but why not give it a try? We'll wear any underwear color in the new year if it means a bright future ahead. We even shopped some options for you, below. Hell, lean in and choose red for your New Year's Eve nails and New Year's outfit too.
In many countries, Puerto Rico included, it's customary to start the year by cleaning everything—and we mean everything. The idea behind it is simple: out with the old, in with the new. In short, if you start the year fresh, it will continue that way.
“On New Year's Eve, it's traditional for British households to gather waiting for the bells of Big Ben, the clocktower at the Houses of Parliament, to ring in the New Year as midnight strikes,” says Glamour executive editor Natasha Pearlman. “As the bells toll, don't be surprised if a huge circle forms, people link hands, and start singing a traditional song called ‘Auld Lang Syne.’”
In some European countries, including Austria and Germany, watching this black-and-white British comedy sketch, recorded in 1962, has become traditional viewing on New Year's Eve. Some die-hards even make the four-course dinner featured in the 18-minute sketch.