New Year is celebrated around the world in different ways. Beyond the conventional fireworks and drinks, New Year celebrations in many countries are associated with different unique and idiosyncratic traditions some of which date back to ancient history.
In this post, I share with you some samples of New Year’s traditions from different countries around the world. I also included links to more resources to help you learn more about these traditions. You can use these materials with your students in class to introduce them to the topic of cultural diversity and how it is manifested in the different ways people celebrate the New Year.
1. United States
Americans celebrate New Year’s Eve by watching a ball drop at the stroke of midnight. At 11:59 p.m., the sparkling Waterford Crystal Times Square Ball begins its descent while millions of people watch the countdown to ring in the New Year. The first descent of the New Year’s Eve Ball dates back to 1907 and seven versions of the Ball have been created to celebrate the New Year.
“Over time, the ball itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing public drops of items ranging from pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) to possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia) at midnight on New Year’s.” Learn more about the history of the New Year’s Eve Ball. .
In Equador, right at the stroke of midnight, people in the streets set fire to effigies of politicians, pop culture stars, and other popular figures. Burning the old year (año viejo) is a traditional practice that symbolizes getting cleansed before the start of the New Year.
“The tradition of the effigy burning is said to go back to an 1895 yellow fever epidemic that hit Guayaquil especially hard. That year people packed coffins with the clothes of the dead and set them in flames, the act being both a symbol as well as a purification rite.
Greeks celebrate the New Year’s day by breaking the pomegranate. In Greek’ s tradition, the pomegranate symbolizes fertility, power, life, and good fortune. There is a whole ritual surrounding the pomegranate smashing. On New Year’s day, a member of the family, usually the breadwinner, takes the pomegranate to the church to be blessed and “when the family returns home, he knocks on the door so that he is the first person to enter the house in the new year.
He then smashes the pomegranate either in front of the door or against the door, and he makes a wish that the juicy, bounteous ruby-like segments of the fruit flood the home with good health and happiness — and as many joys as the pomegranate has arils.” Learn more about Greek New Year traditions.
A popular New Year ritual in Brazil is that of people (usually wearing white clothing) going to the beach and offering Iemanjá gifts. According to afro-Brazilian religions, Iemanjá is the deity that protects the oceans or mother of the waters. Brazilians offer her gifts (e.g., flowers, soaps, combs, necklaces, etc) for protection and peace. Learn more about the Brazilian New Year traditions.
Germans have their own traditions to celebrate, Silvester (i.e., New Year’s Eve). One of these traditions is melting lead.”People heat a little piece of lead or tin melt in a spoon held over a small flame, and then drop it quickly into cold water. The strange shapes it then takes on are supposed to reveal what the year will bring.” Learn more about New Year’s traditions in Germany.
Japanese celebrate the New Year with various traditional rituals. One of them is called Otoshidama which is “a tradition of handing a bit of money in an envelope to the children. It usually isn’t much, but it is something many kids in Japan look forward to. ” Learn more about Japanese New Year traditions.
One of the New Year’s traditions in Mexico is to leave lentils outside your door on New Year’s Eve or eat them in soup right before or after midnight. If you don’t like lentils or you don’t want to eat them you can still put some in your pocket or purse as lentils in Mexican’s folklore are associated with good fortune and luck. Learn more about New Year’s traditions in Mexico.