There are many different New Year’s traditions from around the world, which can be categorized as taking the omens for the following year; seeking to ensure that you will have luck for the year; sending the spirit of the old year away, and welcoming in the new.
Auld Lang Syne and Hogmanay
Many people sing Auld Lang Syne at New Year (especially if they have a connection to Scotland). I wonder how many of them know all the words though!
Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration of New Year, and First Footing is an important part of the Hogmanay celebrations.
Twelve Lucky grapes
In Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, they have the Twelve Lucky Grapes, or las doce uvas de la suerte.
To ensure good luck for the next year, people eat one green grape for each of the upcoming twelve months. However, you cannot just eat the grapes during the first day of the new year any time you feel like it. You must eat the twelve grapes starting at the first stroke of midnight on Nochevieja (“Old Night,” New Year’s Eve) as one year changes to another. And you have to keep eating: with each toll of midnight, you must eat another grape, giving you about twelve seconds to consume all of them. If you can finish all dozen grapes—you can’t still be chewing on them!—before the last bell toll fades, you will have a luck-filled new year.
The article also states that you have to be wearing red underwear that was given to you as a gift, though no-one is sure how that started.
The Southern US custom of eating Hoppin’ John with collard greens possibly stems from the more general idea that you should eat round foods (especially fruit) at New Year. It is also an example of the creative food-ways brought to North America by enslaved Africans (if you didn’t watch the wonderful show High on the Hog about the history of Black cuisine, I highly recommend it).
Broken crockery and old furniture
In Denmark, they leave broken crockery on each other’s doorsteps (sometimes it gets thrown at the house). People save their broken crockery throughout the year in order to use it for this custom on New Year’s Eve.
In Italy, people throw their old furniture out of the window (usually soft items like cushions and blankets).
I feel that this custom would appeal to Tom Cox, who has a thing for scarecrows. In Ecuador, people fill scarecrows with paper at midnight on New Year’s Eve and then set fire to them, along with any old photographs that represent bad memories. This is thought to help banish the misfortunes of the past year.
Onions and sweet cake
In Greece, people hang bunches of onions outside their front doors for luck on New Year’s Eve, and then wake their children on New year’s morning by gently bumping them on the head with the onions. New Year’s Day is the feast day of St Basil, so families get together and eat a sweet cake called Vasilopita. A coin is hidden in it, and whoever gets the slice with the coin gets the luck.
Let the old year out
There’s a custom in many countries of opening the windows to let the old year out. Could be a bit chilly in some climates!
Drive away bad spirits
Many countries have customs for driving away bad spirits at New Year. In Ireland, they bang Christmas bread against the walls of the houses; In Puerto Rico, they dump a bucket of water out of the window.
What are your favourite New Year customs?
Find out more
Marisa Lascala (2022), 35 New Year Traditions From Around the World That Will Bring You All the Luck. Good Housekeeping.
Victoria Loutas (2021), All you need to know about Greek New Year’s Eve customs and traditions. The Greek Herald.
Lisa Joyner (2020), 8 unusual New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world. Country Living.
Yvonne Aburrow (2022), Bridge of Light.
Yvonne Aburrow (2018), First footing. (With instructions for how to make a New Year luck bag.)
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