The clock is running down on another year and people will be gathering around the world to celebrate with friends and family. While parties around the world share a lot of similarities the fun is in the diversity of traditions. Did you know that the first New York City celebration happened in 1904? This year’s ball is illuminated with 32,256 LED lights and is made up of 2,688 Waterford crystals. Some may not know that there was once a time (1984) when Washington DC attempted their own version of the Times Square ball drop. No, the district didn’t use a ball but rather a “Love” stamp that was lowered from the Old Post Office Pavilion building. Then-mayor Marion Barry had hoped the tradition would catch on and maybe even best the drop in Times Square telling the Washington Post, “We’re going to outdo New York. We think we might just take over and become the best single event.”
Things didn’t go as planned. The “Love” stamp drop jumped the gun two minutes early. Not wavering, they pushed on and an estimated 100,000 people attended the event in 1985. Unfortunately, a couple of violent incidents marred the event and the District eventually did away with the tradition.
The area hasn’t given up with putting our own spin on New Year’s Eve. In Easton, Maryland, a giant crab is dropped when the clock strikes 12. In Fredericksburg, Virginia they replaced their pear drop with a pineapple, that’s been very popular with crowds.
Sounds funny? Let’s take a look and you’ll find some other, rather unique ways to ring in the New Year in countries around the world!
Some wear a costume of the next year’s zodiac animal to the local temple, where bells chime a sacred 108 times.
Effigies of popular celebrities and political figures—called muñecos—are burned on bonfires. Other bad-spirit-banishing customs are less fiery and more fun-like the Danish tradition of jumping off chairs at midnight.
In Russia, New Year’s Eve is bigger than Christmas. Russia has a “New Year’s tree” and there’s a big celebration with fireworks and live music every year in Red Square. The Russian Santa, Ded Moroz, and his granddaughter Snegurochka come on New Year’s Eve, leaving presents for children to open on New Year’s Day.
Also, it’s a custom in Russia is to write a wish for the upcoming year on a piece of paper, then to burn the paper and place the ashes in a glass of champagne, which needs to be consumed right before the New Year is rung in for the wish to come true.
It’s a Finnish tradition to predict the coming year by casting molten tin into a container of water, and then interpreting the shape the metal takes after hardening. A heart or ring shape means a wedding in the New Year; a ship forecasts travel; and a pig shape signifies plenty of food.
In Konstanz, Germany, folks jump into 6-degree Celsius water in Lake Constance and they’ve been doing it for 42 years. It’s also a tradition in Germany to watch an old British comedy sketch called ‘Dinner For One’ every year on the New Year’s Eve.
During the New Year’s Eve celebration of Hogmanay, “first-footing” is practiced all over Scotland. The custom dictates that the first person to cross the threshold of a home in the New Year should carry a gift for luck (whiskey is the most common). The Scots also hold bonfire ceremonies, most notably in the small fishing village of Stonehaven, where townsmen parade while swinging giant fireballs on poles overhead (supposedly symbols of the sun, to purify the coming year).
On New Year’s Day, which is known as the Day of the Buttered Bread in Gaelic, is traditionally marked by banging loaves of bread on doors and walls to chase the bad luck out of a house and to invite good spirits in.
Hoping for a travel-filled year, residents will carry an empty suitcases around the block.
Choose your underwear color wisely. Wear red to find your true love. In Colombia, they’re wearing yellow underwear (for happiness and peace) and in Puerto Rico, white (for fertility and health).
Spanish tradition holds that eating 12 grapes just before the clock chimes midnight will bring good fortune for all 12 months of the upcoming year. The chimes are broadcast on TV, which help with grape consumption. Folks often make a contest of getting the 12 grapes down in time.
In Puerto Rico, traditions involving water are prominent around the new year. One custom holds that throwing a cup or bucket of water out of the window on New Year’s will help to drive away the evil spirits. Another way of keeping those spirits at bay at the turn of the year involves falling backward into waves as the clock strikes 12.
Brazilians might be known for ringing in the New Year on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach, but another major component of the celebration in the country is the practice of wearing white. The tradition of wearing white clothing is, like many other New Year’s traditions around the world, meant to bring good luck for the upcoming year. This is often accompanied by a trip to the beach to throw flowers in the sea while making a wish. Many toss their gifts into the sea, some on makeshift boats, hoping the goddess will grant their new year wishes. It is hoped the boats will find their way to her.
In Chili, folks eat lentils when the clock strikes midnight. It is supposed to usher in a prosperous new year.
In Ecuador, a scarecrow represents all the negativity of the previous year. Therefore, burning it at midnight is a cleansing thing. The idea is that positive energy and good luck will follow.
Peruvian traditions range from wearing new clothes and lighting candles to writing down wishes, all practiced with the intention of bringing good luck for the upcoming year. One of the most interesting of these is the tradition of foretelling the next year’s fortunes with the use of potatoes.
According to the tradition, three potatoes are placed under a chair or sofa– one peeled, one half peeled and one unpeeled. At midnight, one potato is chosen at random, which forecasts the state of next year’s finances, with the peeled potato signifying no money, half-peeled a regular year and unpeeled a great financial bounty in the year ahead.
Also, in some villages, they stage a fight to bring in the New Year. They celebrate by punching their neighbours to settle old disputes.
The Philippines have a number of rituals designed to bring good luck in the year ahead. One of these is to open all doors and windows in your house on New Year’s Eve in order to allow negative energy to leave and good energy to enter. Round shapes (representing coins) are thought to symbolize prosperity for the coming year in the Philippines; many Filipino families display heaps of round fruits on the dining table for New Year’s Eve. Other families are more particular; they eat exactly 12 fruits at midnight (grapes, which are also eaten at midnight in Spain, are easiest). Still others wear New Year polka dots for luck.
Throwing furniture out of windows has become a tradition in the South African city of Johannesburg. Yes, in the 1990s, people began chucking old furniture out their windows and off their balconies on New Year’s Eve. Last year police cracked down on the dangerous tradition (a small refrigerator once struck someone in the head) and has been nearly successful in eliminating it.
Danes ring in the New Year by hurling old plates and glasses against the doors of friends’ and relatives’ houses. They also stand on chairs and then jump off them together at midnight. Leaping into January is supposed to banish bad spirits and bring good luck.