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Celebrating New Year Traditions

Updated on December 15, 2017
TeriSilver profile image

As a journalist, Teri strives to educate and disseminate information. She will always tell you, "there's more to the story."

Celebrating the New Year
Celebrating the New Year

Happy New Year!

December 31st is the final day of the Gregorian calendar so on New Year’s Eve, we look forward to a clean slate and a new set of goals, expectations, hopes and yes -- a shot at achieving those dreaded resolutions.

Celebrating the new year with music, entertainment, parades, noisemakers, fireworks, food and alcohol is typical: anything that that makes up a great party. In the United States, we do have our parties -- much like the rest of the world. But throughout the world, countries have their own cultures and traditions.

The "New Year's Song"
The "New Year's Song"

Auld Lang Syne

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne. For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne, We'll take a cup of kindness yet, For auld lang syne!”

Why, Auld Lang Syne?

It is midnight on December 31st and we’re singing that song again. Auld Lang Syne comes from an old Scottish folk song. Poet Robert Burns is the credited author of “most” of the poem, which was published in 1796. Loosely translated, Auld Lang Syne means “for the sake of old times.” In 1929, Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo first played the song in his live New Year’s Eve performance. Auld Lang Syne became a staple in radio and television broadcasts in North America and is still played for New Year’s celebrations today.

Lighting up the sky in Sydney, Australia.
Lighting up the sky in Sydney, Australia.

Australia’s New Year

Because Australia is close to the International Date Line, it is one of the first countries to bring in the New Year. Cities around Australia celebrate the New Year with fireworks and parties. In Sydney, for example, fireworks and light shows that coincide with chosen themes brighten the skies. Several million people attend the New Year’s holiday display at the Sydney Harbor. Other major Australian cities such as Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth hold New Year’s Eve shows and events. In Western Australia, horse racing lovers can watch and bet on the Perth Cup at Ascot Racecourse. The track is more than two miles long (about 3,200 meters).

New Year's ice fishing in Canada
New Year's ice fishing in Canada

Canada’s New Year

Ice fishing is a tradition in some areas of Canada. In Quebec, for example, ice fishing parties take place after the late night party on December 31st -- lasting into the early morning hours of January 1st. Revelers gather outside of Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls to see fireworks and listen to live music. Many of Canada’s big cities (such as Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, etc.) have large New Year’s celebrations -- complete with sky-sparklers and concerts.

In some areas of the country, Canadians young and old take a traditional “polar bear” swim in the icy waters of winter. Organized “dips” take place in several Canadian provinces, including British Columbia and Ontario.

Dancing with a dragon at a Chinese New Year parade.
Dancing with a dragon at a Chinese New Year parade.
The Eiffel Tower on New Year's Eve. (Paris, France)
The Eiffel Tower on New Year's Eve. (Paris, France)

Celebrating the New Year in China

Based on the lunar and solar calendars, Chinese New Year's Eve is when families gather for their annual reunion dinner -- it is the most important Chinese holiday. The festival begins on the first day of the first Chinese month of zhēng yuè, which falls in January or February of the Gregorian calendar. The holiday ends with the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao) on the 15 day. Chú xī means "Year-pass Eve."

While personal customs and traditions vary as to how the holiday is celebrated, many families clean their homes to “sweep away ill-fortune” and bring in good luck. Decorations include red cut-out lanterns with “good fortune” designs which indicate themes of health, wealth and long life.

The Chinese New Year’s Eve table often features portions of duck, pork, chicken, rice and sweets. The night is capped off with fireworks and stories. In the morning, parents give their children red paper envelopes containing different amounts of money. To celebrate the Chinese New Year, parades with dragon floats (associated with wealth and prosperity), dancers and musicians fill the streets. Lantern Festivals to signify the end of the Chinese New Year occur on the 15th day; children visit temples at night, carrying paper lanterns and trying to solve the riddles that are on them.

Telling fortunes the German way!
Telling fortunes the German way! | Source

Celebrating the New Year in France

C’est La Vie! On December 31st in France, the new year begins at midnight with a toast of white wine, hot wine or champagne. Church services on New Year’s Eve are common in some areas, such as in the village of Hautes-Pyrénées near the Spanish border. Following the service, congregants walk to the vineyards to begin the midnight grape harvest. In this village, mature grapevines produce strong, sweet wines; labels on these wine bottles say the grapes were harvested on January 1st. At New Year’s celebrations in France, revelers sing “The Song of a New Year” (Chanson du nouvel An), which is adaptation of the Scottish Auld Lang Syne.

Germany’s New Year’s Celebrations

In Germany, many people attend church services as part of their New Year’s Eve celebration. Public parties feature live and recorded music, firecrackers and fireworks. You may become the recipient of a special gift -- a four-leaf-clover, which is a symbol of good luck in the New Year. Bleigiessen is a fortune-telling; a drop of lead melted on a silver spoon above a candle is then poured into a bowl of cold water. As the lead and wax solidify, the forming shape, such as a circle or heart, symbolizes the luck -- or lack of it -- in the coming year. Be sure to get your share of good luck -- enjoy pig-shaped sweet breads (Gluecksschweinwecken) on New Year’s Day!

Yup, beer is on tap in Irish pubs!
Yup, beer is on tap in Irish pubs!
Cotechino (sausage), eggs and lentils for breakfast on New Year's Day!
Cotechino (sausage), eggs and lentils for breakfast on New Year's Day!

Ireland’s New Year Folly

Celebrating the new year in Ireland may be quiet or loud -- depending on the town or city. In any given area, the local pubs are typically filled with revelers. Some areas “ring” in the New Year with church bells but other areas have public parties, fireworks and live music. You may find people walking along the Atlantic Ocean or Irish Sea shores of beach areas to participate in organized “dips” to bring in the new year. Popular destinations in Ireland for New Year’s festivities include Galway, Limerick and Dublin, where there is a parade on New Year’s Day.

The New Year on Nakamise-dori, in Asakusa, Tokyo
The New Year on Nakamise-dori, in Asakusa, Tokyo

Celebrating the New Year in Italy

Capodanno (the "head of the year") or Notte di San Silvestro (the "night of St. Silvestro") is a popular New Year’s celebration for those living in Italy. Foods include lentils (symbolizing good fortune) and sausages called zampone. Sweet breads like panetonne and torciglione are symbols of hope and prosperity. Figs wrapped in laurel leaves and jars of honey are traditional gifts given to celebrate the coming year. Fireworks at midnight, sparkling wine and more wine, are among Italian New Year’s Eve traditions and, although it's a bit old-school, revelers (in Southern Italy in particular) say goodbye to the old year by tossing around clothes, old appliances, kitchen utensils and furniture out open windows.

It is Japanese custom to visit a shrine or temple for New Year's prayers.
It is Japanese custom to visit a shrine or temple for New Year's prayers.
Kouhaku Uta Gassen
Kouhaku Uta Gassen
New Year's Eve in Time Square, New York City
New Year's Eve in Time Square, New York City

A Japanese New Year Celebration

The New Year (Shogatsu or Oshogatsu) is Japan’s most important holiday, celebrated from January 1st to the 3rd. On December 31st, families clean and decorate their homes to welcome the arrival of Toshigami, the New Year’s god. Doors are decorated with a Shimekezari; straw ropes and fern leaves that are twisted together and decorated with oranges and other good luck symbols.

At midnight on December 31st, Buddhist temples all around the country participate in joya no kane; a ringing of bells 108 times to symbol the 108 sins of their belief -- thus cleansing the Japanese of wrongdoing during the previous year. One of Japan’s biggest New Year’s attraction is the Watched Night Bell in Tokyo, which signifies the bell ringing ceremony.

Almost like a combination of American Idol and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve that is seen in the United States, Japan’s popular New Year’s Eve television show is called Kōhaku Uta Gassen or “Red and White Year-end Song Battle.” It is a sort of “battle of the sexes” contest of male and female singers who are invited to participate.

New Year’s parties in Japan feature games and special foods like toshikoshi (buckwheat noodles,) and mocha (rice cakes). Businesses throw Bonenkai ("Forget-the-year-Parties") for employees in December and “Shinnenkai (New Year Parties) in January.

Celebrating the New Year in the United States of America

Whether staying home, hosting or attending parties, Americans celebrate the new year in a variety of ways. They may be visiting the local nightclubs or one of the nation’s “New Year’s Eve” attractions, such as Times Square in New York City. If they cannot be in New York for the big event, folks may be watching the “ball drop” on television -- a crystal sphere that weighs 11,875 pounds and spans 12-feet in diameter. It is lowered in Time Square, beginning at 11:59:00 p.m., reaching the bottom of the tower at the stroke of Midnight.

On January 1st, the Rose Parade takes place in Pasadena, California and is televised across the nation. There are New Year’s Day parties to attend and, for college football fans, the Rose Bowl, which is the first game of the BCS Bowl Season. The BCS National Championship Game takes place later in the month of January.

© 2013 Teri Silver


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