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New Year's Traditions

New Year's Day may start the second the clock strikes midnight on January 1 in most countries, but various countries around the world welcome the new year with various unique traditions. For example:

1

Spain: Eating Grapes For Good Luck
Young woman eating grapes
Martin Novak/Shutterstock

In Spain, locals will eat exactly 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight to honor a tradition that started in the late 19th century. This tradition originated back in the 1800s, when vine growers in the Alicante area came up with this tradition as a means of selling more grapes toward the end of the year, but the practice evolved and quickly caught on, and today, Spaniards enjoy eating one grape for each of the first 12 bell strikes after midnight in the hopes that this will bring about a year of good fortune and prosperity.

2
Scotland: First Footing
Front door at night
Yongkiet Jitwattanatam/Shutterstock

In Scotland, the day before January 1 is so important that there's even an official name for it: Hogmanay. On this day, the Scottish observe many traditions, but easily one of their most famous is first footing. According to Scottish beliefs, the first person who crosses through the threshold of your house after midnight on New Year's Day should be a dark-haired male if you wish to have good luck in the coming year. Traditionally, these men come bearing gifts of coal, salt, shortbread, and whiskey, to symbolize the idea of promoting abundance and good fortune in the new year.

But why dark-haired men? Well, back when Scotland was being invaded by the Vikings, the last thing you wanted to see at your doorstep was a light-haired man bearing a giant axe. So today, the opposite—a dark-haired man—symbolizes opulence and success.

Scots also hold bonfire ceremonies where people parade while swinging giant fireballs on poles, supposedly symbols of the sun, to purify the coming year.

3
The Netherlands: Eating Oliebollen
Nancy Beijersbergen/Shutterstock

The reasoning behind this Dutch New Year's Eve tradition is slightly odd, to say the least. Ancient Germanic tribes would eat these pieces of deep-fried dough during the Yule so that when Germanic goddess Perchta, better known as Perchta the Belly Slitter, tried to cut their stomachs open and fill them with trash (a punishment for those who hadn't sufficiently partaken in yuletide cheer), the fat from the dough would cause her sword to slide right off. Today, oliebollen are traditionally enjoyed on New Year's Eve. 

4
Russia: Planting Underwater Trees
Lake Baikal in Russia, frozen over
Katvic/Shutterstock

For the past 25 years or so, it has been a Russian holiday tradition for two divers, aptly named Father Frost and the Ice Maiden, to enter into a frozen Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake, and take a New Year Tree—typically a decorated spruce—more than 100 feet below the surface. Though the temperature is normally well below freezing in Russia on New Year's Eve, people travel from all over the world to partake in this festivity.

5
Brazil: Wearing White, Throwing White Flowers Into the Ocean
Young woman dropping white flowers into ocean
Bruno Amado/Shutterstock

In Brazil, the new year is regarded as a time to reflect upon the past and make new resolutions for the coming year. Everyone wears white because the color signifies luck, prosperity, and is meant to ward off bad spirits. As the tradition goes, revelers gather on the beaches donning white garb where they jump seven waves—a lucky number in Brazilian culture—for good fortune, and throw white flowers into the water as an offering to the goddess of the sea, known as Lemanjá or Yemoja, a major water deity who is said to control the seas, to elicit her blessings for the year to come.

6

Italy: Wearing Red Underwear
Red underwear drying on line
stuar/Shutterstock

Italians have a tradition of wearing red underwear to ring in the new year. In Italian culture, the color red is associated with fertility, and so people wear it under their clothes in the hopes that it will help them conceive in the coming year.

7
Greece: Hanging Onions
Red onions hanging from a green door
george green/Shutterstock
The Greeks believe that onions are a symbol of rebirth, and so they hang onions on their doors in order to promote growth throughout the new year. Greek culture has long associated this food with the idea of development, inasmuch as the onion simply plants ts roots and keeps growing.
Chile: New Year's Eve Masses in Cemeteries
Graveyard in Santiago, Chile
Natalia Ramirez Roman/Shutterstock

In Chile, New Year's Eve masses are held not at church, but in cemeteries. The concept is that this change of scenery allows for people to visit with their deceased family members and include them in the New Year's Eve festivities.

9
Japan: Consuming Soba Noodles, Ringing Bells, Home Decoration and Deep Cleaning, Visiting Shrines
Soba noodles with tempura shrimp
sasaken/Shutterstock

In Japanese culture, it is customary to welcome the new year with a bowl of soba noodles in a ritual known as toshikoshi soba, or year-crossing noodles. Toshikoshi literally translates to ‘year-end noodles’, with the tradition starting with the concept of the ease with which the soba noodle can be cut, which represents the ease with which people should cut away the bad luck that has accumulated in their lives throughout the past year. The most popular time to eat toshikoshi noodles is right before the beginning of the New Year, in the late hours of New Year’s Eve. Though nobody is entirely sure where toshikoshi soba first came from, it is believed that the soba's thin shape and long length is meant to signify a long and healthy life. Many folks also believe that because the buckwheat plant used to make soba noodles is so resilient, people eat the pasta on New Year's Eve to signify their strength.

Many shops and restaurants are closed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Japan, so families often take the time to cook a meal at home together and just enjoy each other’s company.

Hatsumode festivities are held at basically every shrine or temple in Japan on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the couple of days following.

At the more popular shrines and temples, there is a festive atmosphere with food stands, people lining up to pray in the main hall, purchasing lucky charms for the new year and disposing of their old lucky charms from last year. If you go to a temple around midnight on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be able to enjoy the magical sound of the temple or shrine bell ringing out into the night to signify the New Year. 

Monastery bell at a Buddhist temple
Maxim Tupikov/Shutterstock

In Japan, it is also customary for Buddhist temples in Japan to ring their bells on New Year's Eve 108 times —107 times on New Year's Eve, and once when the clock strikes midnight. This tradition, known as joyanokane, is meant to both dispel the 108 evil desires in each and every person and cleanse the previous year of past sins.

Japanese people take great pride in their homes and love decorating them with items that symbolize different holidays. For New Year’s Eve, many Japanese households will decorate their homes with branches of pine trees, symbolizing longevity and good luck coming into the New Year. They may also use fruit such as mikan (delicious Japanese mandarins), or red berries of a plant called senryo (literally meaning ‘a thousand coins’) which are symbols of wealth and prosperity. 

The Japanese also believe that it’s very important to enter the New Year with a clean home, so doing a deep clean is absolutely necessary in the days leading up to the holiday. 

10
Denmark: Smashing Plates
Broken plates on concrete
aswphotos134/Shutterstock

In Denmark, it is traditional to throw china at your friends' and neighbors' front doors on New Year's Eve—some say it's a means of leaving any aggression and ill-will behind before the New Year begins—and it is said that the bigger your pile of broken dishes, the more luck you will have in the upcoming year.

Residents of Denmark also greet the New Year by standing on chairs and jumping off of them together at midnight to “leap” into January in hopes of good luck.

11

Ecuador: Burning Scarecrows

Burning scarecrow
In Green/Shutterstock

In Ecuador, New's Year Eve festivities are celebrated with bonfires. At the center of each of these bonfires are effigies, most often representing politicians, pop culture icons, and other figures from the year prior. These burnings of the "año viejo," or "old year," as they're called, are held at the end of every year to cleanse the world of all the bad from the past 12 months and make room for the good to come.

Greece: Pummeling Pomegranates
Cut pomegranates on wooden table
webwaffe/Shutterstock

In ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate symbolizes fertility, life, and abundance, and so the fruit has come to be associated with good fortune in modern Greece. Accordingly, just after midnight on New Year's Eve, it is customary for Greeks to smash a pomegranate against the door of their house—and it is said that the number of pomegranate seeds that end up scattered is directly correlated with the amount of good luck to come in the new year.

13
Germany: Pouring Lead
Melting led over a candle
Simone Andress/Shutterstock

In Germany, all of the New Year's Eve Festivities center around a rather unique activity known as Bleigießen, or lead pouring. Using the flames from a candle, each person melts a small piece of lead or tin and pours it into a container of cold water. The shape that the lead or tin forms is said to reveal a person's fate for the upcoming year, not unlike tasseography.

14
Finland: Casting Tin

Similarly, in Finland, people predict the coming year by casting molten tin into a container of water, then interpreting the shape the metal takes after hardening. A heart or ring means a wedding, while a ship predicts travel and a pig declares there will be plenty of food.

15
Russia: Drinking Ashes
Group of friends toasting with champagne flutes
G-stock studio/Shutterstock

In Russian culture, it is New Year's Eve tradition for people to write their wishes down on a piece of paper, burn them with a candle, and drink the subsequent ashes in a glass of champagne.

16
Czech Republic: Cutting Apples
Red ripe apples and cut apples on the cutting board
marigold-y / Shutterstock

The Czech predict their future fortunes on New Year's Eve with the assistance of an apple. The night before the new year begins, the fruit is cut in half, and the shape of the apple's core is said to determine the fate of everyone surrounding it. If the apple's core resembles a star, then everyone will soon meet again in happiness and health—but if it looks like a cross, then someone at the New Year's Eve party should expect to succumb to an illness.

Armenian pita bread
Elena Shi/Shutterstock

People in Armenia bake bread on New Year's Eve, and traditionally knead metaphorical good wishes nto every batch of bread baked on the last day of the year.

Turkey: Sprinkling Salt
Salt shaker spilled on wooden table
inewsfoto/Shutterstock

In Turkey, it's considered good luck to sprinkle salt on your doorstep as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Day. As is customary with many New Year's Eve traditions around the globe, sprinkling salt is said to promote both peace and prosperity throughout the new year.

20
Ireland: Sleeping on Mistletoe
Mistletoe tied with red ribbon
Oleksandr Rybitskiy/Shutterstock

In Ireland, it is customary for single women to sleep with a sprig of mistletoe under their pillow on New Year's Eve. It is believed that sleeping with the plant helps women to find their future husbands.

21
Philippines: Displaying Round Objects

In the Philippines, it is common, on New Year’s Eve, to display various round objects as representatives of coins to symbolize prosperity in the coming year. Many families display piles of fruit on their dining tables and some eat exactly 12 round fruits (grapes being the most common) at midnight. Many also wear polka dots for luck.

22
China:  Eight Lucky Symbols
The colours red and gold after often associated with luck.

Chinese symbols for luck

The Chinese character for luck is "fu"

One of the most popular Chinese symbols of good luck during Lunar New Year is the Chinese character “fu”. The symbol is often written in black or printed in gold, on a red background. It is said that the symbol brings in positive energy and happiness when hung in homes and in the center of a door. Some Asian cultures also tape their “fu” characters upside down because the character becomes the Chinese word for “arrive” which symbolizes that happiness has arrived.

Three coins tied with a red thread is believed to bring luck and wealth.Three Chinese Lucky Coins

Three Chinese lucky coins tied with a red ribbon is said to bring good fortune. The coins are supposed to be placed in the southeast corner of your home or carried inside a purse to bring wealth.

Bamboo Plant

Bamboo plants

Bamboo is known to be a symbol of strength in Asian cultures. The bamboo plant symbolizes the wish for a strong life filled with prosperity. Plants are often sold with different numbers of stalks, each representing luck in different areas of one’s life. Two stalks represent love; three represent happiness, wealth and long life; five stalks bring  wealth; six represent good luck in general; seven ensure health; eight stalks bring growth; nine represents great luck; ten symbolizes perfection and 21 will bring about a powerful blessing.

Red pockets are a tradition many unmarried individuals and children look forward to during Lunar New Year.Red Pockets/Envelopes

During Lunar New Year, one of the most well-known items given to others is the lucky red envelope filled with money. They are used for gift-giving and traditionally are given by married couples to those younger than them as a symbol of good luck.

Chinese mystic knot

Mystic knots are often used as decorations to represent happiness and eternity. Each knot consists of six infinity knots tied together, which represents never-ending luck. They can be hung on their own as a keychain or paired with other lucky symbols and decorations.

Spring couplets are words of blessings written on red paper with black ink.

Spring couplets

Couplets are red-coloured strips usually with black or gold Chinese characters written on them. The couplets are used as decorations to express happiness and hope for the upcoming year. Longer vertical couplets are usually taped to the side of the door, a smaller horizontal couplet above the door and a diamond shaped couplet are to be taped in the middle of the door.

Peach Blossom

Plum and Peach blossoms

Fruit blossoms are often used to decorate houses during Lunar New Year. The plum and peach blossoms symbolize the start of a cycle for plentiful crop of fruit for later in the year. Peach blossoms symbolize long life, romance and prosperity which many single people look for. Meanwhile, plum blossoms symbolize being a reliable person who will keep trying during difficult times.

Red hanging lanterns.

Red Chinese lanterns

Red lanterns symbolize life and a prosperous business in Chinese culture. The lanterns are often hung in pairs. It is said that hanging them is to “light the way” for the family’s “kitchen god” – a spiritual being that reports to celestial gods about the family and then will reward or punish families based on the report. The red lanterns help the kitchen god find the door of their house on the way back from their journey. Make sure to not hang the lantern at the center of the door or it will block the positive energy coming in and the negative energy leaving.

23
Argentina:  Eating Beans

Shutterstock

On New Year’s Day, Argentineans eat beans, following the belief that eating beans will help them keep their current job or find a better one in the new year.

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