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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Christmas Traditions from Around the World

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

We are fully in the Christmas season, now that Thanksgiving is past! And I’m glad. This is my favorite time of year. My house is fully decorated for Christmas. There’s a cocoa bar set up in my kitchen. And my little living Norfolk pine serves as my Christmas tree.

In the US, we have many fun holiday traditions, from decorating Christmas trees to ugly sweater contests to setting out cookies for Santa.

Have you ever wondered how other countries celebrate Christmas? My ever curious mind wanted to know. Check out these Christmas traditions from around the world! You might find a fun new custom to add to your festivities.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Many countries celebrate Christmas differently than we do in the US. People around the world find joy in this holiday season, eating favorite foods, honoring timeless traditions, giving gifts to loved ones.

Although some Christmas traditions are universal, like decorating trees or singing carols, some are quite unique. Take a look at these traditions that differ from what we do in the US.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World US
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – in the US kids like to leave Santa a snack

England

In jolly England, Father Christmas leaves presents in stockings or pillowcases hung on kids’ beds. And children leave a snack for Father Christmas, just as children do in the US. However, while we leave cookies and hot cocoa or milk, children in England leave mince pies and brandy.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World England
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – in England kids leave a mince pie and brandy

Ireland

The Irish leave a red candle lit overnight in a front window on Christmas Eve. The candle is symbolic of welcoming Mary and Joseph with warmth and shelter as they search for lodging. Traditional Christmas fare includes roast goose, potatoes, veggies and cranberries.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Ireland
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Irish candle in the window

Scotland

One of the most astounding things about Scotland is that Christmas was banned in the country for 400 years! As a result of the reformation in 1560, the kirk (church) frowned on anything related to Roman Catholicism. In 1640 Scottish parliament passed a law making yuletide celebrations illegal. It wasn’t until 1958 that December 25 became a public holiday in Scotland again.

For this reason, New Year’s Eve in Scotland is a very big celebration. It’s called Hogmanay. I’ll share more about this festive time in a future post. One Scottish Christmas tradition is baking unleavened yule bread for each person in the family. The one who finds a trinket in his or her bread is blessed with good luck for the new year.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Scotland
They’ve only been legally celebrating Christmas again since 1958, however the Scots decorate their cities beautifully now. The Dome in Edinburgh.

Italy

Did you know that nativity scenes originated in Italy? The holiday season begins on December 8 in Italy and runs through January 6. Everywhere, in churches, homes and outdoors, are nativity scenes called presepes that include Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. And rather than Father Christmas, Italians have Babbo Natale, a kind old woman who leaves gifts for children on January 6.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Italy
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Italian presepe with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus

Germany

In Germany, December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day. Children receive small gifts on that day and they recite poems they wrote for Saint Nicholas.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Germany
December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day in Germany.

Sweden

The Yule Goat became a Swedish Christmas symbol centuries ago. However, in 1966, someone came up with the idea of making a huge straw goat, now called the Gavle Goat. The festive goat stands 42 feet tall and weighs more than three tons.

Construction of the straw goat begins on the first Sunday of Advent and it remains standing until New Year’s Day.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Sweden
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Swedish Yule Goat

Philippines

San Fernando is the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. Every year they hold the Ligligan Parul, Giant Lantern Festival. The brilliant lanterns, called parols, represent the Star of Bethlehem. Each parol contains thousands of spinning lights.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Philippines
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Giant Lantern Festival in the Philippines

Iceland

In Iceland they celebrate the 13 days of Christmas. Every night before Christmas, children place shoes or boots in the window and then go to sleep. The kids hope to receive a visit from the 13 Yule Lads, who leave candy for good children and rotten potatoes for naughty ones.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Iceland
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – boots wait for treats in Iceland

New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand falls during their summer. Christmas festivities include gathering around the barbie for cookouts. New Zealand boasts a spectacular Christmas tree called the Pohutukawa that blooms with crimson flowers in December.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World New Zealand
The Pohutukawa tree blooms during December in New Zealand.

Denmark

Homes in Denmark contain gnome like characters called nisser, who provide protection. They sport long white beards and wear red stocking caps. Make your own adorable nisser by searching for them on Pinterest.

On Christmas Eve, Danish families move the Christmas tree into the middle of the room where they dance around it while singing carols.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Denmark
The nisser are a playful part of Christmas traditions in Denmark.

Norway

The Christmas season, called julebord, begins on December 3 in Norway. Families celebrate Little Christmas December 23. On that day they decorate the tree, make gingerbread houses and eat a hot rice pudding called risengrynsgrot.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Norway
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Norway celebrates Little Christmas on December 23

Ukraine

In the Ukraine, people celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 by dressing in traditional clothes and walking through town, singing carols. Kutya, a dish made with cooked wheat, honey, ground poppy seeds and nuts, is popular on Christmas Eve. If someone throws a spoonful of kutya at the ceiling and it sticks, the harvest in the new year promises to be bountiful.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Ukraine
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – people in Ukraine singing carols through town

Nigeria

Families in Nigeria throw parties that last all night long, on Christmas Eve. In the morning they go to church. The church choir travels through the town, singing carols to people in their homes. Family members exchange gifts and children enjoy setting off fireworks on Christmas Day.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Nigeria
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – Nigerian children shoot off fireworks on Christmas Day

Switzerland

In Switzerland, families make their own advent calendars together. Each day’s bag or box contains a small gift or treat. The biggest gift is given on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Switzerland
Swiss families make their own advent calendars together.

Mexico

In Mexico, bright red poinsettia plants appear in holiday arrangements throughout the country. In churches, members put on Pastorelas, Shepherd’s Plays, to tell the Christmas Story. They also march in parades in early December, re-enacting the journey of Mary and Joseph.

Christmas Traditions from Around the World Mexico
Christmas Traditions from Around the World – in Mexico the poinsettia appears in arrangements throughout the country

What Are Your Christmas Traditions?

In my home, I enjoy several personal traditions. I purchase a heart ornament for my tree each year, buy a new Christmas mug for my collection and cluster snowmen in groups and villages.

My younger daughter and I, and any other family members who want to join in, watch Dicken’s A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve. We prefer the George C Scott version. I’m excited to introduce my new granddaughter to the tradition this year.

And I’d love to incorporate Christmas traditions from around the world in my festivities too. I seriously want a nisser! And next year, or whenever travel restrictions ease, I’ll visit the Christmas market in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Do you have favorite Christmas traditions in your home? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Edinburgh Christmas Market
Edinburgh Christmas Market

Christmas Finds from Amazon:

 


 

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