Unique New Year’s Eve Traditions

Estimated reading time 5 min

No matter where you are in the world, the new year offers you the chance of renewal. Cultures across the globe have their own traditions and beliefs when it comes to celebrating the end of one year and the start of another. The French eat a stack of crepes at midnight on New Year’s Eve. In Switzerland, it’s good luck to drop ice cream on the floor. When it comes to bidding farewell to a year gone by, symbolism is king and the more offbeat the custom the better. Check out some of the world’s most unique New Year’s Eve traditions:

  • Peruvians settle their differences with a good old-fashioned fist fight on December 31st so they can start the new year with a clean slate.
  • Revelers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil throw flowers into the ocean as offerings to Yemanja, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of the sea.
  • Spain celebrates with the 12 Grapes of Nochevieja. At the stroke of midnight, Spaniards eat one grape for every chime of the clock to usher in luck and riches for the year to come. This dates back to 1909, when grape growers in Alicante had an exceptional harvest and wanted a way to sell more grapes. Some say that the flavor of each grape—whether it’s sweet or sour—will predict the outcome of each month.
  • In Colombia, residents carry empty suitcases around the block at midnight to guarantee a travel-filled year. Another tradition is that of the peeled versus unpeeled potato. On New Year’s Eve, Colombians place three potatoes—one peeled, one half-peeled, and one unpeeled—under their beds. At midnight they close their eyes and grab one. Peeled foretells financial problems, unpeeled suggests abundance, and half-peeled falls somewhere in between.
  • The people of Denmark encouraged dish-smashing on New Year’s Eve. People throw plates and glasses against neighbors’ doors to banish evil spirits. They also jump off of chairs at the stroke of midnight to enter the new year with a flying start.
  • Citizens of Finland predict the coming year by casting molten tin into a bucket of cold water. The shape this tin takes symbolizes things to come in the new year. A key shape means career advancement, hearts and rings signify a wedding, and horses and ships mean travel. Additionally, a coin will bring wealth, a broken ring divorce, and a star good fortune.
  • Greece goes onion crazy on New Year’s Eve. Every year, Greeks hang onions on their front doors as symbols of rebirth in the coming year. In the morning, parents wake their children by tapping them on the head with the onion.
  • In Japan, bells are run 108 times—once for each of the sins of Buddhist belief. This is so the country can begin the new year cleansed of the previous year’s sins.
  • The Irish throw bread at the walls to scare off evil spirits.
  • As part of their annual Hogmanay celebration, Scots recognize the act of “first-footing.” The first person to cross the threshold of a home in the new year brings a gift and predicts the next year’s fortune. Those who bring the most luck are new brides, new mothers, and those who are tall and dark. Common gifts include whiskey, coal, bread, and coins.
  • People from across Singapore descend upon the Singapore River at Marina Bay for a stunning New Year’s Eve spectacle. Observers write their wishes for the coming year on giant floating white spheres and release them into the river.
  • In Thailand, the new year begins in April—one of the hottest parts of the year. Thais take part in a celebration called Songkran: a countrywide water fight.
  • In keeping with the adage “Out with the old, in with the new,” residents of Johannesburg, South Africa throw old furniture and appliances out their windows.
  • At midnight, people in Turkey sprinkle salt on their doorsteps to usher peace and abundance into their homes.
  • In the Czech Republic, it’s common practice to cut an apple in half and predict what lies ahead in the new year by interpreting the shape of the core. A star symbolizes health and prosperity, whereas a cross portends bad luck.
  • Eating seven, nine, or twelve meals on New Year’s Day in Estonia guarantees a good year ahead. You’re not required to finish all the food, though. Estonians commonly leave food on their plates on purpose for the spirits of ancestors who visit the homes during the holidays.
  • Germans love their New Year’s Eve doughnuts, especially those filled with jelly or liquor. As a joke, some contain mustard and bring bad luck to their unsuspecting eaters. It’s said that if you suffer the misfortune of a mustard doughnut, you can reverse the bad luck by eating a marzipan pig or finding a four-leaf clover.
  • During Chinese New Year in February, the Chinese hang colorful lanterns, feast on dumplings, and give gifts of money in red envelopes (red symbolizing joy and good fortune).

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