Grace Lower | Jul 29, 2021
With the whirlwind that was 2016 coming quickly to a close, many of us are eager for New Year’s festivities to begin. If you’re like me, New Year’s Eve is a time to relax and reminisce with loved ones, tune in to the Times Square ball-drop, and indulge in a glass of champagne.
While my own New Year’s Eve traditions are fairly tame, end-of-year celebrations tend to differ depending on who you are and where you live. Some friends of mine enjoy attending mass on New Year’s Eve, while others prefer carousing at city-wide parties. And throughout the country, traditions vary even more wildly. Residents of Mount Olive, North Carolina or Plymouth, Wisconsin might forego the televised ball-drop in favor of their local Pickle- and Cheese-drops. And in Allen, Texas, runners get a head start on their resolutions by participating in a New Year’s Eve marathon or 5k.
The wide range of New Year’s traditions here in the U.S. got me thinking about how other countries ring in the New Year—and my research didn’t disappoint. From smashing plates to burning effigies, here are some of the most unique New Year’s traditions from around the world.
In Brazil, New Year’s partygoers often don new, colorful underwear in hopes of good fortune. Each color is said to attract a different type of luck for the year ahead. Green underwear symbolizes good health, while yellow represents financial prosperity. White underwear is said to bring peace, red is said to attract passion, and pink underwear is thought to bring romance. Purple underwear symbolizes intellectual and spiritual inspiration. But no matter the color, this tradition offers a lighthearted way to wish for a happier year to come.
While any good New Year’s party offers plenty of snacks, grapes are a particularly popular option in Spain—and they come with a twist. When midnight rolls around, Spaniards will eat one grape for each time the clock chimes. It may sound pretty straightforward, but my Spanish friends assure me that the challenge is tougher than it seems. A successful completion of the seasonal speed-eating contest guarantees good luck for the following year.
3. Broken Plates
Broken glass isn’t normally a welcome sight, but in Denmark, it’s celebrated. Every New Year’s Eve, Danes will travel to their friends’ homes and throw their old, chipped dishes at the front door. As strange as it seems, a stoop covered in plate fragments suggests that the homeowners are quite popular among their friends.
In Japan, Buddhist temples play a key role in ringing in the New Year—literally! Just before midnight, temples across the country will ring their bells 108 times to represent 108 human sins. Each ring of the bell is seen as a way to rid Japan of the bad experiences, deeds, and luck from the previous year. The most popular bell-ringing event takes place in Tokyo, where the “Watched Night” bell is rung 107 times on December 31, and once past midnight.
5. Noise and Light
While plastic noisemakers are common in New Year’s festivities, the Philippines offers a unique take on noisemaking. When the clock strikes 12, Filipinos celebrate the New Year as loudly as they can—clanging pots and pans, revving their car engines, dragging tin cans through the streets, and blowing whistles. The racket created is thought to scare away evil spirits. In addition to the noisy celebration, Filipinos will turn on lights in every room of their home to ensure that the coming year is bright.
6. Hot and Cold
In some parts of the Netherlands, towns will hold public bonfires on New Year’s Eve to represent new beginnings. Families will often contribute their old Christmas trees and wreaths to the cause. The next morning, a number of Dutch towns and villages will organize televised “New Year's Dives.” During these events, brave participants will dive into lakes, canals, and even the North Sea for a short swim. Given the icy conditions that come with winter in Northern Europe, the divers’ bravery is praised by spectators across the country.
7. Money Where Your Mouth Is
In Greece, New Year’s Eve coincides with St. Basil’s Day—an important celebration in the Greek Orthodox tradition. In addition to exchanging gifts, special cakes called vasilopita are a favorite New Year’s treat. Inside each of the round cakes is a coin, which is said to bring good luck to whoever finds it.
To celebrate the New Year and to commemorate St. Basil, Greek families will cut the vasilopita—dedicating the first two slices to Christ and the household. The rest of the pieces are distributed to guests in order of age. While only one guest will find the coin in his or her slice, the rest of the guests can partake in a sweet treat and a nod to religious tradition.
8. Pack Your Bags!
While many New Year’s traditions center on prosperity, in Latin American countries like Mexico and Colombia, it’s not uncommon to hope for a year filled with travel. One tradition involves walking in a circle with a suitcase. Whether it’s a spin around the house or a stroll around the block, this practice is said to guarantee a year of exciting adventures.
9. Burning Up
Perhaps the most curious New Year’s Eve tradition takes place in Panama. Every year after Christmas, dozens of effigies, called Muñecos, are put on public display. These life-sized figures are often modeled after celebrities, cultural figures, and politicians. When New Year’s Eve rolls around, the effigies are burned—according to Panamanian folklore, the act of setting the effigies aflame destroys the sins of the old year, making way for good fortune in the year to come.