New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World

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The countdown to the end of the year is on. In less than two weeks, we bid 2020 goodbye and welcome 2021.

In the US the new year is welcomed with the drop of a ball in New York City’s Times Square, resolutions and hugs and kisses from loved ones. However, different cultures embrace different customs.

Check out these New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world and discover new ways to welcome 2021!

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World title meme

New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World

From Spain to Turkey, Russia to Denmark, these New Year’s Eve traditions are unique to the individual countries. In the US, we’ve adopted a few customs from other countries, like singing Auld Lang Syne…a Scottish song. However, I love the diversity and richness from these cultures around the world.

Denmark

In Denmark, the sign of a good New Year’s Eve celebration is the number of broken plates piled up outside the door. The tradition involves throwing dishes at your neighbor’s, friend’s and family members’ front doors.

The more broken plates, the more luck people believe they will have. The broken china symbolizes leaving ill-will behind before the new year begins.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Denmark
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – breaking plates in Denmark

Turkey

Sprinkling salt on your doorstep as the clock strikes midnight is considered good luck in Turkey. The tradition also promotes peace and prosperity throughout the coming year.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Turkey
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – sprinkling salt in Turkey

Spain

In Spain, residents eat exactly 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. The tradition began in the late 19th century. Vineyards in the Alicante region came up with the tradition, as a way to sell more grapes at the end of the year. The celebration quickly caught on.

Today it’s customary to eat one grape for each chime of the clock at midnight, to welcome a year full of good fortune and prosperity. Packages of 12 grapes, in a clock shaped container, are sold just for this tradition.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Spain
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – eating grapes in Spain

Italy

Italians don red underwear, to welcome in the new year. Their culture associates red with fertility and fruitfulness and good luck. Couples hoping to conceive in the upcoming year make sure they have on their red undies as the clock strikes midnight.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Italy
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – wearing red undies in Italy

Estonia

Bring your appetite if you ring in the New Year in Estonia. People celebrate the approaching year by eating seven, nine or 12 meals. Those numbers in Estonia are considered lucky throughout the country.

And if someone can’t finish their meals, that’s a bonus. People often leave food on their plates to feed family members visiting…in spirit.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Estonia
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – eating many meals in Estonia

Armenia

When baking bread on New Year’s Eve, in Armenia, bakers add a special extra ingredient…luck. It’s tradition to knead in wishes for prosperity and good luck in the coming year, in every loaf of bread baked on December 31.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Armenia
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – baking lucky bread in Armenia

Ireland

On the last night of the year, it’s customary for unmarried women in Ireland to sleep with mistletoe under their pillows. Placing the plants under their pillows helps the women dream of their future husbands…and perhaps find them after waking!

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Ireland
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – mistletoe under the pillow in Ireland

Russia

Many people in different countries make a toast with champagne on New Year’s Eve. However, in Russia, they take that tradition one step further. People write their wishes for the upcoming year on a slip of paper, burn it in a candle flame and then add the ashes to their glasses of bubbly.

Cheers!

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Russia
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – toasting with ashes in Russia

Greece

In Greek culture, onions symbolize rebirth and growth. People hang strands of onions on their doors to encourage growth in all areas of their lives, throughout the new year.

New Year's Traditions from Around the World Greece
New Year’s Traditions from Around the World – hanging onions in Greece

South Africa

Firm believers of “out with the old and in with the new”, people in South Africa throw old furniture and even appliances out their windows and into the streets on New Year’s Eve. This tradition, which is falling out of use due to pedestrian injuries, symbolizes making space for new things to flow into life.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World South Africa
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – tossing out old furniture in South Africa

Japan

Japanese culture welcomes in the new year with a bowl of soba noodles. The ritual, known as toshikoshi soba, translates to “year crossing noodles”. Although the origin of the tradition is uncertain, it’s believed that the soba noodles, which are long and thin, represent a long and healthy life ahead.

Also, the noodles are made from buckwheat, a very resilient plant. People eat the noodles to signify their own resilience and strength.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Japan
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the world – eating soba noodles in Japan

Germany

In Germany, people celebrate the new year with a unique activity called bleigieben, also called lead pouring. Using a candle flame, each person melts a small piece of lead or tin in a special spoon and pours the liquid into a container of cold water. The shape that the melted lead or tin forms reveals the person’s future in the upcoming year. A ship signifies travel. A heart shape means love in the future. A pig or food shape indicates plenty.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Germany
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – melting lead in Germany

Brazil

In Brazil, people wear white for New Year’s Eve. Those near coastal regions place white flowers and candles in the water. Their offerings to Yemoja, a water deity, ensures blessings throughout the upcoming year.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Brazil
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – white flowers in Brazil

Ecuador

Festivities in Ecuador center around bonfires. Each fire burns a scarecrow, called an effigy, that represents a politician, celebrity or pop icon from the previous year. Called ano viejo, “old year”, these bonfires held on the last day of the year represent cleansing all the bad from the past year to make room for the good to arrive in the new one.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Ecuador
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – burning scarecrows in Ecuador

Scotland

The Scots celebrate the new year in a big way. Due to the Christmas ban that lasted 400 years, festivities in Scotland shifted to New Year’s Eve. The famous celebration is called Hogmanay.

First Footing, which began during Viking times, is perhaps the most well known New Year’s Eve tradition. A first footer is the first person to cross the threshold of the home, after midnight. That person brings good fortune for the coming year. Traditionally, first footers were dark haired, handsome men…dark haired in contrast to blond Vikings, who were NOT welcome in houses…but today friends and neighbors serve as first footers. It’s customary to bring a simple gift such as food or whisky during first footing.

Fire ceremonies play a huge role in Scottish celebrations too as people carry torches through the cities to ward off evil. Street parties and dancing go on all night and fireworks light up the sky.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Around the World Scotland
New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World – Hogmanay in Scotland

Saying Goodbye to 2020

As I share these New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world, I do so with the keen awareness that many of the festivities and celebrations are different this year, or even canceled. The challenges of 2020 may impact celebrations but they don’t annihilate them. People will find other ways to welcome in the new year while keeping traditions alive.

Scotland, for example, is hosting its first ever virtual hogmanay. You can sign up to take part in their festivities HERE. I’ve already signed up! You see, I intended to be in Edinburgh for the Christmas Market this December and I’d love to experience Hogmanay too. I’m trusting I’ll get that opportunity another time.

Do you have New Year’s Eve traditions? Did you discover a new one in this post to add to your festivities? I plan to create my own Scottish bonfire in my backyard firepit, on New Year’s Eve, and burn my own little effigy that represents 2020. A bowl of soba noodles would be nice too!

I wonder if it would scare my neighbors if I throw china at their front doors?

Happy New Year
Happy New Year!

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14 Replies to “New Year’s Eve Traditions from Around the World”

  1. Enjoyed thank you. Interesting how people celebrate. Broken dishes, red underwear (can actually picture that in Italy). Would be neat to incorporate other traditions into New Years. Hope your holidays are lovely.

  2. These are cool! I love reading about customs from other countries. I remember reading Ekaterina Gordeeva’s memoir, and she also spoke of breaking a dish for New Year’s. They hid the pieces in the house afterward. It’s so interesting what people do to celebrate.

  3. I think you neighbors would be scared if you through cina at thier door. LOL I had just learned of the Spain tradition of eating exactly 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, recently.

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