25 Unique New Year's Eve Traditions From Around the World
From drinking ashes to smashing pomegranates, this is how other countries usher in the new year.
You may be used to the toasting and the singing that comes with every New Year's Eve, but some celebrations that usher in the new year in different corners of the globe couldn't be more different than ours. Take Ecuador, for instance: There, citizens parade around the city with scarecrows built to look like popular politicians and cultural icons—and at the stroke of midnight, said scarecrows are burnt to a crisp to cleanse the new year of everything evil. And in Brazil, it's customary to light candles and throw white flowers into the water as an offering for Yemoja, the Queen of the Ocean. Below, we've traveled the world—virtually, at least—to round up some of the most creative and culturally unique New Year's Eve traditions from around the world. Keep reading to find out how other countries will be celebrating!
The Best (Global) New Year's Eve Traditions
1. Spain: Eating Grapes For Good Luck
In Spain, locals will eat exactly 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight to honor a tradition that started in the late 19th century. Back in the 1800s, vine growers in the Alicante area came up with this practice as a means of selling more grapes toward the end of the year, but the sweet celebration quickly caught on. Today, Spaniards enjoy eating one grape for each of the first 12 bell strikes after midnight in the hopes that this will ward off bad luck and bring about a year of good fortune and prosperity.
2. Scotland: First Footing
In Scotland, the day before Jan. 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, all of which further contribute to the idea of having good fortune.
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 ax. So today, the opposite—a dark-haired man—symbolizes opulence and success.
3. The Netherlands: Chowing Down On
The reasoning behind this Dutch New Year's Eve celebration is odd, to say the least. Ancient Germanic tribes would eat 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 enjoyed on New Year's Eve, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Dutch food vendor in the winter months who isn't selling these doughnut-like balls.
4. Russia: Planting Underwater Trees
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 venture 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 frozen fête.
5. Brazil: Throwing White Flowers Into the Ocean
If you happen to be in Brazil for New Year's Eve, don't be surprised to find the oceans littered with white flowers and candles. In the South American country, it is commonplace for citizens to take to the shores on New Year's Eve to make offerings to Yemoja, a major water deity who is said to control the seas, to elicit her blessings for the year to come.
And it's not just white flowers you might see lining the shores, either. It's also tradition for Brazilians to dress in white and dive into the ocean shortly after midnight. Once in the water, celebrants will jump over seven waves while making seven wishes thought to come true in the new year.
6. Italy: Wearing Red Underwear
Italians have a New Year's tradition of wearing red underwear each Dec. 31. In Italian culture, the color red is associated with fertility, so people wear it under their clothes in the hopes that it will help them conceive in the coming year.
7. Greece: Hanging Onions
No, this New Year's Eve tradition has nothing to do with vampires. Rather, the Greeks believe that onions are a symbol of rebirth, so they hang the pungent vegetable on their doors to promote growth throughout the new year. Greek culture has long associated this food with development, seeing as all the odorous onion ever seemingly wants is to plant its roots and keep growing.
8. Chile: Chilling in Cemeteries
In Chile, New Year's Eve masses are held not at church, but in cemeteries. This change of scenery allows for people to sit with their deceased family members and include them in the New Year's Eve festivities.
9. Japan: Slurping Some Soba Noodles
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. Though nobody is entirely sure where toshikoshi soba first came from, it is believed that the soba's thin shape and long length are meant to signify a long and healthy life. Since 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. If you want to make a bowl of New Year's Eve Noodles for yourself this December 31st, then be sure check out blogger Namiko Chen's recipe.
10. Denmark: Smashing Plates
In Denmark, people take pride in the number of broken dishes outside their door by the end of New Year's Eve. It's a Danish tradition 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.
11. Ecuador: Burning Scarecrows
In Ecuador, New Year's Eve celebrations are lit up (quite literally) by 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.
12. Greece: Pummeling Pomegranates
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. 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.
13. Germany: Pouring Lead
In Germany, all 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 year ahead, not unlike tasseography.
14. Japan: Ringing Bells
One-hundred-and-eight. That's how many times Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bells on New Year's Eve 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 past year of past sins.
15. Russia: Drinking Ashes
Before you get grossed out, rest assured that Russians are not consuming human ashes or anything of the sort. Rather, in Russian culture, it is New Year's Eve tradition for folks 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
The Czechs prefer to 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 fall ill.
17. Estonia: Eating Many Meals
If breakfast, lunch, and dinner are hardly enough to satiate you, then you'll want to celebrate New Year's Eve in Estonia. There, people believe that eating seven, nine, or 12 meals will bring about good things in the year to come, seeing as those numbers are considered lucky throughout the country. And if you can't finish your food, worry not: People often purposefully leave food on their plates to feed their visiting family members—the ones in spirit form, that is.
18. Armenia: Baking "Good Luck" Bread
When people in Armenia bake bread on New Year's Eve, they add a special ingredient to their dough: luck. Of course, they don't literally add an ingredient called luck into their batter, but it is tradition for metaphorical good wishes to be kneaded into every batch of bread baked on the last day of the year.
19. Turkey: Sprinkling Salt
In Turkey, it's considered good luck to sprinkle salt on your doorstep as soon as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. Like many other New Year's traditions around the globe, this one is said to promote both peace and prosperity throughout the new year.
20. Ireland: Banging Bread Against the Wall
Every New Year's, Irish families will cook a Christmas bread and bang it against the doors and walls of their family homes to ward off evil spirits. In addition to chasing off bad luck, the act is thought to help invite good spirits in to help bring about a new start
21. United States: Watch the Ball Drop
Each year, an estimated one million people gather in New York City's Times Square to watch the New Year's Eve ball drop. Satellite technology helps millions more U.S. Americans experience the tradition from the comfort of home, with upwards of a billion people watching worldwide. If those tuning in live from home are located in the American South, chances are they'll be doing so with a bowl of collard greens and black-eyed peas in hand. These foods are thought to help secure good luck and financial gains in the new year.
22. Colombia: Put Three Potatoes Under the Bed
On the last night of the year, Colombians place three potatoes under their beds—one peeled, one unpeeled, and one half-peeled. At midnight, they'll reach under the bed and grab the first potatoes they touch. Peeled means you're going to experience financial problems in the year ahead, unpeeled means you'll have a year filled with prosperity and financial success, and half-peeled puts you somewhere in between.
23. Philippines: Serving 12 Round Fruits
In the Philippines, it is customary to serve 12 round fruits on New Year's Eve—one for each month of the year. The tradition is thought to help bring about prosperity, happiness, good health, and money. The round shape represents coins that will help attract good fortune to each household. Different colored fruits also symbolize different forms of luck. Green and purple, for instance, represent prosperity while yellow is associated with happiness and unity.
24. Canada: Go Ice Fishing
These days, it's not uncommon to find Canadians celebrating New Year's Day by participating in the popular cold-weather activity of ice fishing. Many companies you can pay for the experience provide heated huts to keep everyone comfortable while on the ice. Some even provide equipment and cooking instructions to help groups enjoy their catch.
25. Universal: Making New Year's Resolutions
To wrap up our list of New Year's Eve traditions, here's something that isn't specific to any one country. The practice of making a New Year's resolution is, instead, something people around the world do. The tradition actually dates back about 4,000 years, when the ancient Babylonians would make promises to their gods and reaffirm their loyalties to the king during a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu.
That's it for our list of New Year's Eve traditions, but be sure to check back in with us soon for even more to celebrate. You can also sign up for our newsletter to enjoy similar content, as well as the latest in wellness, entertainment, and travel.