New Year Traditions Around the World

December 27, 2013 by

Festivals & Events, Things to Do

What are you doing when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve? Depending on where you are, this answer could vary. In America, there is the tradition of watching the ball drop from Times Square in NYC (or the Peach drop in Atlanta and so on), along with an impressive fireworks display that rivals Independence Day, breaking out into “Auld Lang Syne” and the kiss to start the year off right.

But, that’s America. What about downing 12 grapes at each chime of the clock? Or smashing plates against a front door? There are different New Year traditions around the world. Let’s take a trip, shall we?

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Referred to as “Nos Galan”, at the first strike of 12 in Wales, people open their back doors, then shut them. This signifies letting the old year exit (hopefully quietly) and then closing out any bad luck. At the last stroke of midnight, the front door is opened to let in the New Year and new luck. Tradition also dictates that if the first visitor in the New Year is a woman and a man opens the door to let her in, it is bad luck. Also, if the first man to come into the home in the New Year is wearing a red hat, that’s bad luck, too.

The following morning in Wales, New Year’s Day (“Dydd Calan”), children awake early and visit neighbors to sing until midday.


Hide your nicer dishes for this New Year’s Eve tradition. In Denmark, people toss old dishes at the homes of their friends. The more broken dishes you have laying scattered about your front stoop, the more friends you have.


Eat 12 grapes in Spain for good luck!

Eat 12 grapes in Spain for good luck! – photo courtesy of JaulaDeArdilla via Flickr

People in Spain bring in the “Nochevieja” by eating grapes, one-at-a-time, at each chime of the clock. Those who can down the 12 grapes in a minute have good luck for the New Year. Those who can’t? Well, better luck in 365 days. After midnight, people leave their homes and head out to celebrate.

Read more about Spain’s Holiday Traditions


“Jack Straw,” an effigy, is made up to represent evils and misfortunes of the past year and is then paraded around Hungary villages before it is burned on New Year’s Eve, or “Szilveszter.” Then, to put the old year in the past, people attend church.

South Africa

At midnight, it’s tradition in South Africa for churches to chime their bells and locals to shoot their guns. In the past, people used to fling fridges off of balconies and bridges, too, but due to serious risks, this practice has been largely curtailed.


New Year in Japan

“Forget the year” in Japan – photo courtesy of civ33 via Flickr

The New Year, which symbolizes renewal, is the most important holiday in Japan. In the days leading up to December 31, Japanese hold “Bonenkai” or “Forget the year” parties to prepare for the coming New Year. On New Year’s Eve, Buddhist temples hit the gong 108 times to expel the 108 types of human weaknesses so everyone starts the year fresh.

Read more about New Year in Japan


To commemorate the start of the New Year in the Netherlands, Christmas trees are burnt, fireworks are launched and children toss fire crackers. This tradition is said to come from a pagan custom – the firecrackers drive away demons and allow people to start the New Year with a clean slate. The next day, some people take a quick polar bear dip into the frigid waters of the North Sea.


While people in China may not celebrate the same New Year as others, they still have a tradition. “Yuan Tan”, the Chinese New Year, takes place between January 1 and February 19 and is based on the lunar calendar. Unlike most other New Year celebrations, the Chinese New Year lasts for 10 to 15 days and includes fireworks, celebrations and the exchange of red envelopes with gold coins placed inside for good luck.


In this country, Colombians build a dummy to represent the old year. It is clad in old clothes from each family member and stuffed with straw and firecrackers, along with pieces of paper where each family writes down faults or bad luck they want to get rid of in the new year. Then it is burned to ashes.


Look out for coins or charms in the Vasilopita in Greece!

Look out for coins or charms in the Vasilopita in Greece! – photo courtesy of Irene-Angelica Chounta via Flickr

In Greece, they make special bread called “Vasilopita”. It is baked with a coin or charm inside it. At midnight, it is cut and served, and the person who has the piece of bread with the coin or charm receives good luck for a year.

Is there a New Year’s Eve tradition you have in your country? Please share it below!

Read more about New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

Diana Edelman

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One Response to “New Year Traditions Around the World”

  1. Sorin Says:

    Tried the Uvas experience while I was in Barcelona for a New Year Party. And it was a cool and funny experience to see all the people with grapes :).