New Year’s Traditions around the World

lauren f

It’s safe to say that the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year is one of the, if not the most, celebrated holidays around the world. While not every culture celebrates it at the same time, it’s a time of unity and  joy for people everywhere. Throughout the globe, there are several fascinating traditions and customs that are used to ring in the New Year, and the purpose of this article is to teach you (the reader) about them. Let’s begin!


Obviously, here in the US, we watch the ball drop in NYC. But we’re talking about other countries here, so let’s start in Europe. 

For starters, in Spain (as well as many other Hispanic countries), people eat 12 grapes at midnight to symbolize each strike of the clock, and to bring good luck. This tradition is called las doce uvas de la suerte, but the luck will only work if you eat all the grapes before 12:01, or 00:01 in Spain. Up North, the Danish also strive for good luck, but bring it by smashing old plates against the walls – and in Ireland, the plates are replaced with bread! In addition, while Italy’s tradition may not involve eating grapes or smashing things on walls, they believe certain clothes bring good luck. For New Years, the Italians believe in wearing red underwear for the New Year. Clearly, the Europeans believe in good luck, even if it’s obtained by
slightly odd means. 


Moving on, let’s talk about some Asian traditions!


Unlike most of the other countries in the world, the people of China celebrate their New Year’s according to the lunar calendar. It typically falls somewhere in late January or early February. It is believed that red represents good luck in Chinese culture, so people typically decorate their houses with red. They also watch/participate in a dragon dance, where  several people dress in red and wear one large dragon costume, and dance with it on. This artistic tradition is meant to ward off evil spirits. Moving on to another large Asian country, let’s travel to India. In certain parts of India, the people build an effigy of an old man, and burn it down. This symbolizes letting go of the old year, and it is supposed to (you guessed it) bring good luck. In Thailand, as well as most of the other countries on the peninsula of Indochina, they pour buckets of water over each other, like a big New Year’s water fight! It’s meant to wash away negativity from the old year, and bad luck in the New Year. In terms of Western Asia, the majority of those countries are Islamic, and Muslims do not celebrate New Year’s. Let’s continue!


Further South – in Africa – there aren’t many unique New Year’s celebrations. The majority of the countries in North Africa (and some in West Africa) are Islamic, and Muslims don’t celebrate New Year’s. Of the other not Islamic countries, most have regular celebrations, such as going to clubs and partying. However, in South Africa, many throw old furniture out of their windows! The police in Johannesburg have been more strict about it though, due to the numerous pedestrian injuries.


Now that we covered the Eastern Hemisphere, let’s cross the Atlantic to the West!


In North America, we obviously already know US traditions. Canadian ones are very similar (party, celebrate with family, etc). In Mexico, though, there are several. Like Spain, they have the tradition of eating twelve grapes. Also, similar to Italy, they wear colored underwear! Red is for love, yellow is for happiness, green is wealth, and white is for hope.  However, they also have traditions that are unique to Mexico. For example, it is a tradition to eat a spoonful of cooked lentils to bring good fortune for the upcoming year. Also, similar to certain parts of India, their second tradition involves disposing of the old year. On New Year’s, some Mexicans toss a bucket of water out of their window, to symbolize letting go of the previous year and welcoming the new. This tradition is also very similar to those of the Indochinese peninsula – isn’t it interesting that many different places across the globe have such similar forms of celebration? Anyway, let’s continue down South.


There are various traditions throughout South and Central America, and this article won’t be able to cover all of them. However, here are the ones that I found the most interesting.

In Chile, people write down their wishes and goals for the New Year, then burn the paper. It’s basically a New Year’s resolution, but in a physical form. Like Italy and Mexico, the tradition of wearing different colored clothes extends throughout the continent. In Brazil, it is said that if you dress in all white, go to the beach, jump seven waves, then place flowers in the ocean, you will have good luck. That’s a lot harder than just wearing white underwear! However, it is also believed that wearing black on New Year’s will bring bad luck to the year. 

Finally, in Peru and Colombia, the people participate in a “potato prediction”, which is meant to predict someone’s financial situation in the New Year. They take three potatoes, and place them under a chair or sofa. One potato is not peeled, the second is half peeled, and the third is fully peeled. At midnight, someone picks a potato without looking. If the potato is unpeeled, hooray – you will have good fortune! If the potato is half-peeled, that means that you will have an average financial year. If you’re unlucky enough to pick the fully peeled potato, you’ll have no money in the New Year. On that happy note, this is the end of the article.


In conclusion, places all over the world have unique traditions for the New Year, designed to bring good luck and fortune, and to let go of the old year. Even if these traditions may just be superstitions, it still brings hope and joy to the people around the world (except if you get the unpeeled potato in Peru), and it’s a time of celebration with family and friends. Happy New Year!