Ringing in the New Year Around the World

Thursday, December 31, 2009
My New Year’s eve festivities usually consist of going to a party where I can stay the night (too many checkpoints out there to drive), drinking lots of champagne, wearing a tiara, dancing, telling funny stories, watching the ball drop in Times Square, and kissing as many friends as I can. That’s what I’ll be indulging in tonight, and probably waking up with a bad champagne headache tomorrow morning--my hair in the latest bird’s nest fashion, makeup smeared face, and, hopefully, without anyone drawing pictures with a sharpie on my body. Yes, it sounds like a frat party, but my friends like to party like it’s 1999. Er, '89 in my case. In past years, I’ve gone to concerts and also just stayed at home with my hubby for a quiet evening. Remember Y2K? LOL. It seemed everyone stayed at home that New Year.

The wonderful thing about the New Year is that people are celebrating all over the world. Many of the customs are just like ours but some are different, or more interesting. Here are some customs, past and present, from around the world. (Resource: fathertimes.net)

Australia: Australians celebrate the New Year on January 1. This day is a public holiday and many people have picnics and camp out on the beach. They have parties that start on December 31 and at midnight they start to make noise with whistles and rattles, car horns and church bells to ring in the New Year.

Austria: New Year's Eve is called Sylvesterabend which is the Eve of Saint Sylvester. They make a punch made of cinnamon, sugar, and red wine in honor of him. Taverns and inns are decorated with evergreen wreaths. Confetti, streamers, and champagne are also part of New Year's Eve. Evil spirits of the old year are chased away by the firing of mortars called böller. Midnight mass is attended and trumpets are blown from church towers at midnight. People exchange kisses.

Belgium: New Year's Eve is called Sint Sylvester Vooranvond or Saint Sylvester Eve. The réveillon or New Year's Eve family parties are thrown. At midnight everyone kisses, exchanges good luck greetings, and drinks toasts to absent relatives and friends. The cities, cafés, and restaurants are crowded with people who bid farewell to the Old Year. New Year's Day is called Nieuwjaarsdag at this time of the year the children save money to buy decorated paper for writing holiday greetings to parents and godparents, and read the letter to them.

Brazil: On New Year’s Eve local priestesses organize a ceremony that is dedicated to the goddess of water, Yemanja. A sacrificial boat laden with flowers, candles, and jewelry is pushed out to sea from Brazil’s famous Ipenama beach in Rio de Janeiro. On New Year’s day, people wear white clothes, as it is believed to bring them good luck and peace for the rest of the year to come.

Great Britain: In Britain the custom of first footing was practiced. The first male visitor to the house after midnight was supposed to bring good luck. Usually they brought gifts like money, bread, or coal, which was done to ensure the family would have plenty of these things all the year to come. In London, people gather in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus to listen to the chimes of Big Ben as it rings in the New Year.

Denmark: In Denmark it is a good sign to find your door heaped with a pile of broken dishes at New Years. Old dishes are saved year around to throw at their friend’s homes on New Years Eve. Many broken dishes were a symbol that you have many friends. New Year’s Eve is framed by two important items broadcast on television and radio, respectively the monarch’s New Year Speech at 6pm and the striking of midnight by the Town Hall Clock in Copenhagen, which marks the start of the new year. Many Danes party with various kinds of good food followed by champagne and marzipan ring cake at midnight. The New Year is greeted with fireworks after midnight which light up the night sky with many different colors.

France: The French New Year is Jour des Étrennes, or Day of New Year’s Presents. Dinner parties are thrown for the entire family and people exchange presents and greeting cards.

Germany: People would drop molten lead into cold water and try to tell the future from the shape it made. A heart or ring shape meant a wedding, a ship meant a journey, and a pig meant plenty of food in the year ahead. People would also leave a bit of every food eaten on New Year's Eve on their plate until after Midnight as a way of ensuring a well-stocked larder. Carp was included as it was thought to bring wealth.

Greece: January 1st is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also St. Basil's Day. New Year is perhaps even more festive and important then Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of St Basil's kindness to children. He was said to leave gifts for children in their shoes. On New Year’s Eve, children sing carols and also on New Years Day. The first person across the threshold of the house on New Year's Day is said to bring the family good luck throughout the coming year.

Hungary: In Hungary they burn effigies or a scapegoat known as "Jack Straw" which represents the evils and misfortunes of the past year. Burning the effigy on New Year's Eve is supposed to get rid of bad luck.

India: The New Year’s festival is called Diwali, a festival of lights. People decorate their homes with little oil lamps known as diwa, which are used to drive out evil by replacing it with goodness. People try to finish any uncompleted work as Diwali marks the end of the year. Businesses pay of all debts and new account books are blessed before the New Year. It is a time for new beginnings. People give cards and gifts are exchanged. They make New Year’s resolutions and forget all quarrels for this time of year is a time to be happy and generous. Even the animals are washed, groomed and decorated for the festival.

Japan: The Japanese New Year, Oshogatsu, is an important time for family celebrations, and is a time when all the shops, factories and offices are closed. It begins on January 1st and lasts for two weeks. To keep out evil spirits, they hang a rope of straw across the front of their houses, which stands for happiness and good luck. When the New Year begins, people begin to laugh, which is supposed to bring them good luck in the New Year.

Korea: The first day of the lunar New Year is called Sol-nal. On New Year's Eve people place straw scoopers, rakes or sieves on their doors and walls to protect their families from evil spirits. Everyone also becomes one year older on New Year’s Day since Korean age is calculated at the New Year. Many people gather on the beach in the morning to watch the sun rise.

Netherlands: People burn Christmas trees on street bonfires and let off fireworks to ring in the New Year and as a way of driving out the spirits of the old year.

Poland: New Year’s Eve is known as St. Sylvester's Eve in honor of Pope Sylvester 1 who, according to legends, imprisoned a dragon called Leviathan in the year 1000. 

Portugal: The Portuguese pick and eat twelve grapes from a bunch as the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve. The twelve grapes ensure twelve happy months in the coming year.

Romania: On New Year’s Eve, children sing Plugusorul and Sorcova. In their songs, they wish good luck, happiness, and success. Leaving a lamp lit on New Year’s night until dawn is an old tradition to ensure that the New Year will be sunny and rich with harvests. Also, on New Year’s Eve, another custom is the Vergel which is a mysterious act meant to prospect the future, in which unmarried young people and their parents take part. The one practicing the Vergel will want to know what the future year holds for them and, most of all, if and whom they will marry. On New Year’s morning, some traditional families toss money into the water where they wash their hands, counting on the fact that this will bring them money during the entire following year.

Russia: Grandfather Frost, who wears a blue suit instead of Santa's red, arrives on New Year's Eve with his bag of toys for the children. 

Scotland: New Year’s Eve is called Hogomanay or Night of the Candle. People prepare for New Year by cleaning their home and purifying it with a ritual or burning juniper branches carried through the home. The First Footer says that the first person to set foot into your home on New Year's Day decides the luck of the family for the coming year.

South Africa: The New Year is rung in with church bells and gunshots. On New Year's Day there are carnivals where people dress in colorful costumes and dance in the streets to the sound of drums.

Spain: Everything, including theater productions and movies, is stopped at Midnight on New Year's. The clock strikes midnight and everyone eats twelve grapes. They eat one grape for each toll to bring good luck for the next twelve months of the New Year. Sometimes the grapes are washed down with wine.

Wales: At 3:00 to 4:00 AM on New Year’s morning, boys of the village go from house to house with an evergreen twig to sprinkle on the people and each room of their house to bring them good luck. On New Year’s Day, children roam the neighborhood singing songs that are rewarded with coins and sweets.


I hope you have a safe and happy New Year. Here's to 2010! And, of course, a productive writing year. If you had a particularly momentous New Year's Eve, feel free to share your story! (If you're not too hung over. LOL.) I'd love to hear about it. :)


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