Victoria Doudera, “New Year’s traditions from around the world: How to have a happy new year anywhere,” The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Dec. 17, 2019, https://www.almanac.com/content/new-years-traditions-around-world#.
Many New Year’s traditions that we take for granted today actually have a long, long history. This year, ring out the old and ring in the new with a new New Year’s tradition—or two!
MAKE SOME NOISE
Making a lot of noise—from fireworks to gun shots to church bells—seems to be a favorite New Year’s pastime across the globe.
In ancient Thailand, guns were fired to frighten off demons.
In China, firecrackers routed the forces of darkness.
In the early American colonies, the sound of pistol shots rang through the air.
Today, Italians let their church bells peal, the Swiss beat drums and North Americans sound sirens and party horns to bid the old year farewell.
EAT LUCKY FOOD
Many New Year’s traditions involve food. Here are a few:
The tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight comes from Spain. Revelers stuff their mouths with 12 grapes in the final moments of the year—one grape for every chime of the clock!
In the southern US, black-eyed peas and pork foretell good fortune.
In Scotland—where Hogmanay is celebrated—people parade down the streets swinging balls of fire.
Eating any ring-shaped treat (such as a doughnut) symbolizes “coming full circle” and leads to good fortune. In Dutch homes, fritters called olie bollen are served.
The Irish enjoy pastries called bannocks.
In India and Pakistan, rice promises prosperity.
Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) tradition.
In Swiss homes, dollops of whipped cream, symbolizing the richness of the year to come, are dropped on the floors—and allowed to remain there.
HAVE A DRINK
Although the pop of a champagne cork signals the arrival of the New Year around the world, some countries have their own beverage-based traditions.
Wassail, a punch-like drink named after the Gaelic term for “good health,” is served in some parts of England.
Spiced “hot pint” is the Scottish version of Wassail. Traditionally, the Scots drank to each others’ prosperity and also offered this warm drink to neighbors along with a small gift.
In Holland, toasts are made with hot, spiced wine.
GIVE A GIFT
New Year’s Day was once the time to swap presents.
Gifts of gilded nuts or coins marked the start of the new year in Rome.
Eggs, the symbol of fertility, were exchanged by the Persians.
Early Egyptians traded earthenware flasks.
In Scotland, coal, shortbread and silverware were traditionally exchanged for good luck.
PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD
In Scotland, the custom of first-footing is an important part of the celebration of Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve day.
After midnight, family and friends visit each other’s homes. The “first foot” to cross a threshold after midnight will predict the next year’s fortune. Although the tradition varies, those deemed especially fortunate as “first footers” are new brides, new mothers, those who are tall and dark (and handsome?) or anyone born on January 1.
TURN OVER A NEW LEAF
The dawn of a new year is an opportune time to take stock of your life.
Jews who observe Rosh Hashanah make time for personal introspection and prayer, as well as visiting graves.
Christian churches hold “watch-night” services, a custom that began in 1770 at Old St. Georges Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions, said to have begun with the Babylonians as early as 2600 B.C., is another way to reflect on the past and plan ahead.
NEW YEAR’S FOLKLORE
Some customs and beliefs are simply passed down through the ages. Here are some of our favorite age-old sayings and proverbs.
On New Year’s Eve, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing.
If New Year’s Eve night wind blows south, It betokens warmth and growth.
For abundance in the new year, fill your pockets and cupboards today.
If the old year goes out like a lion, the new year will come in like a lamb.
Begin the new year square with every man. [i.e., pay your debts!] – Robert B. Thomas, founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac
So, whether we resolve to return borrowed farm equipment (as did the Babylonians) or drop a few pounds, we’re tapping into an ancient and powerful longing for a fresh start!