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New Year Traditions Around the World

Updated on December 27, 2014

Although New Year celebrations may differ from country to country, the celebration of a new year and the hope it brings is a universal theme.

BBC Symphony, Chorus and Singers - Auld Lange Syne

Singing Auld Lang Syne

The singing of Auld Lang Syne as the clock strikes midnight is an old custom in Britain and has become popular in many parts of the world. Originally a Scottish tradition, the song was written down in the eighteenth century by the Scottish poet Robert Burns and literally translated means old long ago or days gone by. The song Is also used in various other events such as funerals or passing out parades of the military.

Many English speaking counties continue the custom of singing this song, on the stroke of midnight people link arms to make a circle and sing Auld Lang Syne as a way to welcome in the New Year and say goodbye to the old.

Mistletoe and Kissing

Both Mistletoe and kissing have a role in many New Year celebrations. Kissing under the mistletoe is a tradition practiced throughout the Christmas period, and in America it is a tradition to share a kiss at midnight at New Year. According to German folklore the first person you encounter in a new year sets the tone for the rest of the year. So kissing a loved one or even a stranger begins the New Year on a positive note. This has evolved into the custom of kissing someone as the clock strikes midnight to mark the New Year.

In Ireland it is traditionally thought lucky for single women to place mistletoe leaves under their pillow on New Year’s Eve. It will bring love in the coming year. For those in love it would bring marriage.

Wearing Polka Dots

In the Philippines they believe that round things are a sign of success. During the New Year celebrations they eat grapes, jingle coins in their pockets, and wear polka dots on their clothes. The throwing of coins as the clock strikes is also a common practice.


Breaking Dishes


In Denmark a tradition to bring good luck is carried out on New Year’s Eve. Throughout the year old plates and dishes are collected and on New Year’s Eve they throw dishes at their neighbor’s door to wish them good luck. The home with the biggest pile of broken dishes will have the greatest luck in the coming year and is shown to have many friends.

New York Ball Drop

Ball Drop

In New York City at 11.59pm on December 31st a ball is dropped and the count down to the New Year begins. The tradition dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century, in 1904 a New Years Eve celebration was held in the city including fireworks as the finale. In 1907 the first ball was dropped and ever year since, except for wartime blackouts the event has occurred.

The ball falls 141 feet in 60 seconds down a specially designed flagpole to signal the start of the New Year. Over one million people attend the ball drop annually and it televised nationally and internationally. There are similar drop events across the US, usually with an object of local significance.

Other Drops in the US

Location
Drop
Fact
North Carolina
Possum drop
A Sate and Federal licence is required to capture and handle the possum
Pennsylvania
Pickle drop
 
Wisconsin
Carp drop
A carp is lowered onto a throne, followed by a frework display.
Atlanta
Peach Drop
The culmination of a carnival is a 800lb fiberglass peach and fireworks.

Good Luck Traditions

Greece - a special bread is baked with a coin inside. The first slice is offered to God, the second to the wage earner of the house and the third for the house itself. The winner of the slice with a coin will be blessed with good luck.

Wales - at the first stroke of midnight the back door of the house is opened and them closed. At the 12th stroke the door is reopened to welcome in the New Year for good luck and prosperity.

Japan - the house is decorated to welcome luck and good fortune. The house is cleaned, all issues are resolved and all financial commitments resolved so that the New Year starts on a positive note.

The Netherlands - Christmas trees are burnt on bonfires on New Years Eve to purge the old and welcome the New Year.

Ecuador - People burn paper scarecrow's to symbolize getting rid of all that is old.

Scotland - Barrels of tar are set alight and rolled down the streets, this symbolizes burning away the old year and making way for the new.

Fireball in Scotland

Fire balls on New Years Eve
Fire balls on New Years Eve | Source

Fireworks

Fireworks have become a central part of New Year celebrations all over the world. In China, the country that invented fireworks they are used to scare off evil spirits and misfortune.

Fireworks over Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve 2006–07.

New Years Eve Fireworks
New Years Eve Fireworks | Source
Language
How to Say New Year
Arabic
Kul'aam u antum salimoun
Chinese
Chu Shen Tan
Dutch
Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
French
Bonne Annee
German
Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
Italian
Buon Capodanno
Polish
Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Russian
S Novim Godom

Most New Year traditions are a celebration of the year gone by and a welcome to the New Year about to start.

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