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New Year traditions around the world

27 December, 2008 17:36  EasyExpat EasyExpat

New Year Eve party - credit WikimediaAs another year comes to an end, let’s take a look at how people from around the world celebrate the New Year.  


In England, crowds gather in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus waiting to hear the chimes of London's Big Ben, which announces the arrival of the New Year. People link arms and there is usually a rendering of "Auld Lang Syne." The custom of "first-footing" is important. To ensure good luck for the inhabitants of a house, the first person to enter on New Year's Day should be male, young, healthy and good-looking. He should preferably be dark-haired and carrying a small piece of coal, money, bread and salt. These things symbolize wealth. Women and those people with blonde or red hair are considered unlucky "first-footers."

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Hong Kong

Since the people in Hong Kong are not allowed to set off real firecrackers at the New Year, they use plastic firecrackers as decorations. Most people favor red as the color for clothing and decorations since it is associated with joy and happiness. Lucky money is distributed in red envelopes with the family name and a good luck message written in gold. These are given on by relatives to the children of the family and any unmarried members only. The New Year feast is always a large one for the first day of the year.


The Greeks celebrate the beginning of the New Year by sharing a traditional sweet bread into which a coin has been baked.  The bread is sliced at midnight and whoever gets the coin is believed to have good luck for the year.


The Spanish ritual on New Year's eve is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to secure twelve happy months in the coming year.

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Effigies of a scapegoat known as "Jack Straw" are burned. These effigies represent the evils and misfortunes of the past year. "Jack Straw" is carried around the village before being set on fire.


The Chinese continue to observe the lunar New Year, which is based on the old Chinese lunar calendar, so it may occur at any point between January 1 and February 19.  The celebration can last anywhere from 10 days to one month.  They set off firecrackers and play drums and cymbals to drive away evil spirits.  Gifts of money, in red envelopes, are exchanged.

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United States of America

Probably the most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 P.M. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of 2,668 Waterford Crystals, weighs 11, 875 pounds and is capable of creating more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns producing a spectacular kaleidoscope effect atop One Times Square.

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New Year's Eve is called Sylverterabend, which is the Eve of Saint Sylvester. Austrians make a spiced punch in honor of the saint. Evil spirits of the old year are chased away by firing moroars. They attend midnight mass and trumpets are blown from church towers at midnight, when people kiss each other.

South Africa

In South Africa, church bells ring in the New Year and gunshots are fired. In the Cape Province area, carnivals are the order of the New Year's Day and Second New Year's Day.  People dress in colorful costumes and dance in the streets to the sound of drums.

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In Mexico, the Christmas celebration of posadas culminates on January 6 in the Fiesta de los Reyes.  On that day, the King’s Cake (rosca de reyes) is served.  The cake is formed into a ring to symbolize a crown, and a doll is hidden in the dough.  The one who finds the doll becomes the king for the day and must select a queen.  The “royal” couple then hosts a party on Candlemas (February 2), when candles are lit for purification of the Virgin Mary.

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Sidd Lobo

Freelance writer 


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