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New Year Around the World

By Mira Khatib


On the stroke of midnight many people all over the world cheer on the New Year with great joy. The feeling of we made it, another year-gone bye for better and for worse and a new year has begun with fresh promises. This is the chance to accomplish what we resolve to do in the coming 365 days.

There is nothing really special about January 1st as people around the world celebrate the New Year on different dates and mainly according to dates established by their religion. Yet since the early ancient Romans changed their calendar and made the beginning of the year January 1st instead of March 1st many countries followed suite, making January 1st a day for world wide celebration.

Around the world, different cultures have their own traditions; that stem from ancient practices, for welcoming the New Year. Here is a closer look of New Years celebrations from around the world.


Ancient Rome

Where it all started

The practice of exchanging gifts on New Years Eve began in Rome. In the beginning, symbols of good luck were given. This developed into coins with Janus (the god of new beginnings) stamped on them. Friends would also exchange glass jars filled with dates and dried figs soaking in honey and a bay leaf branch symbolizing a wish that their New Year would be sweet and full with good fortune.



New Year’s Eve is a big night for celebrations in Australia. People gather at friend’s homes or in major venues of their hometowns. Amazing fireworks fill the sky while dancing and great entertainment lasts till early hours of the morning. At midnight everyone joins hands and sings “Auld Lang Syne” then continue the tradition of making “New Year Resolutions”.



Festivities in Brazil are always big, even more so on New Year. Streets are decorated with bright colors and an ample of bells and flowers. After midnight late meals are served and usually lentils are included as they symbolize good luck. The fun and partying goes on until dawn. In Eastern Brazil, people go to the beach. At midnight people run into the waters with flowers, gifts and candles for the goddess Lemanja.



Chaul Chnam Thmey meaning entering the New Year is celebrated on April 13th and lasts for three days. Homes are cleaned and decorated with flowers and balloons. People shower each other with colored water (red, pink, or yellow) as a blessing to symbolize a colorful future.



In china New Year that takes place in January or February is a time for paying debts, cleaning homes and enjoying symbolic meals. “Lai” which are small red packets with money are given out.



Prior to the 19th century gloves and pins were the traditional gifts for the New Year. Today, crowds gather into Piccadilly; Circus and Trafalgar Square in London awaiting Big Ben to announce the start of the New Year. Some people determine the luck of the year by the “first-footer” or the first person to set foot in the house. Some people place coal and silver coins just outside their door step before midnight and bring it in again after midnight to ensure that warmth and prosperity will enter the house all year round.



People crowd on the Champs-Elysses to usher the New Year, not bad with the Arc of Triumph on one end and the Place de la Concorde on the other. Families and friends exchange homemade gifts and greeting cards that might include bonbons, flowers and fresh or candid fruit and gifts of money are given to children or service people.



You can say New Years arrival is a bit “oniony” in Germany. Onions are used to predict the weather of the New Year. Six onions are cut in half while the cut side is salted. Each half is designated as one month of the year. They are left alone for a while, and then when they are looked over the predictions are made. Onions that the salt has dissolved on – the month will be wet; if the salt is still there the month will be dry.



The New Day as it is called in Iran is celebrated on March 21st and lasts for 13 days. It is celebrated with new clothes, symbolic foods, bountiful feasts, and exchanging gifts. It is bad luck to stay indoors on the 13th day so many people picnic. A ceremonial table called sofreh-e haft sinn, meaning “cloth of seven dishes” is prepared. Seven dishes are set each beginning with the letter “S” in Farsi. Each dish represents one of the seven angelic heralds of life: rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty. 



A sprig of mistletoe is hung over the front door to ensure good luck and at midnight old pots and dishes are tossed out of windows to bring good luck. A popular sweet treat is Chiacchiere. It is made of tiny balls of dough that resemble little lentils, the balls are drizzled with honey so they year will be sweet.



The New Year called “Shogatsu” is celebrated for three days. New clothes are worn and straw ropes and fans are stung across the front door to bring happiness and good luck as well as seaweed and ferns. Each decoration symbolizes something pine is for youth, longevity and strength of character; bamboo is for luck, and plums for virtue and courage. Usually “year forgetting parties” are thrown. A known tradition on New Year is everyone gets a chance to ring the bell in the Buddhist temple until it is rung a total of 108 times. Everyone laughs at the stroke of midnight to ensure good luck for the coming year craftsmen clean and honor their tools. Food plays an important part as well. Rice is always served and usually as “mochi”” a cooked glutinous rice cake shaped like a round ball.



Families get together usually at someone’s home to eat and enjoy a midnight dinner. They also set out fireworks as a sign of happiness. Children jump ten times when the clock strikes twelve to “grow taller”.



Strange things are believed to happen on New Year, like farm animals talking on that day. However if one hears them it is considered bad luck.



The New Year is referred to as Hogmanay, “Moon of the Hag”. Black buns and Scottish fruitcakes are baked weeks in advance and enjoyed on New Years Eve. In some areas of Scotland large barrels of tar are set on fire to “burn out the old year”. The well-known poem/song “Auld Lang Syne”, was written by a Scottish poet, Robert Burns, 200 years ago.



Usually people eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, one for each month assuming that money will come with each grape for the whole year.



Children go door-to-door singing and wishing people a Happy New Year. They receive mincemeat pies, fruit and coins in return.


United Arab Emirates, Dubai

Celebrations and festivities start in the evening of New Year’s Eve. People dress their best and go to parties and enjoy shows of entertainment and heart filled meals lasting till dawn. Others gather near Burj Al Arab Hotel or Atlantis the Palm to gaze at the astonishing fireworks not to mention the best fireworks from Burj Khaleefa the tallest skyscraper in the world that paints the skies with their many bright colors and designs.


United States

Bells ring, noisemakers whirl, people shout and cheer at the stroke of midnight as everyone shouts “Happy New Year”. People kiss, toast the year with champagne and sing “Auld Lang Syne”. Almost everyone makes New Years Resolutions, promising to do something better in the coming year. 


In California

Early New Years Day the Tournament of Roses Parade begins. Large elaborate floats covered with flowers, nuts, and seeds are marveled at by spectators. The parade’s tradition started in 1886 when carriages were decorated simply with flowers. The Rose Bowl, a football game, usually follows the parade.


In New York City

Thousands gather into Times Square to watch the “ball drop”. A large ball covered with lights drops from the top of a skyscraper precisely at midnight on New Years Eve.



Photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton / iW / CC BY-NC-ND


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