Asia | Inspiration

Cultural New Year's Eve celebrations around the world

Recently updated on July 19th, 2022 at 10:19 am

Discovering New Year’s Eve traditions around the world is not only a learning experience but an opportunity to expand your bucket list. 

The countdown is on. For some, New Year’s Eve is a night of excitement. A time to celebrate the year’s achievements and think about all the new beginnings to come. For others, it’s an evening of dread. Of anxiously wondering what unexpected twist lies around the corner. Regardless, that all-important stroke of midnight is on the horizon for everyone. 

How will you be celebrating this year? You might be surprised to learn that people all over the world will be ringing in the new year by doing something that probably never would have crossed your mind.

Read on to find out how New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world.

Ecuador: Alight with año viejo

Ecuadorians participate in one of the most jaw-dropping of all the New Year’s Eve traditions around the world. They send off the year by parading around the city and burning effigies in a practice named “año viejo” or “old year”. Citizens build scarecrow-like figures out of dummies stuffed with newspaper or sawdust and dressed in old rags. They make them in the likeness of well-known political figures and cultural icons. Then, as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, the effigies are set alight. This practice symbolises cleansing. Of wiping away the misfortune and bad omens of the past year and making space for goodwill to come in the new year.

Brazil: Sea & spirituality

New Year’s Eve around the world is generally a time of fun and excitement. The same can be said for Brazil, but traditions here also run deeper with spiritual importance. One of the most widely practised New Year’s Eve traditions is offerings to Yemoja, the deity of the ocean. She comes from the Afro-Brazilian religions of Umbanda and Candomblé. Her purpose is to protect coastal townspeople. Hence, Brazilians offer her white flowers by throwing them in the ocean and asking for goodwill and peace for the upcoming year.

Enjoy the sights of Brazil and beyond with Trafalgar on the Impressions of South America with Brazilian Amazon tour.

The Philippines: Prosperous polka dots

Philippine locals dress for success on New Year’s Eve by wearing polka dots. The idea is that the dots will promise wealth in the upcoming year. A local belief is that roundness is a symbol of prosperity. Therefore, by wearing polka dots on New Year’s Eve, one is then surrounded by roundness. Other round objects people surround themselves with for good fortune include coins and fruits like oranges.

Spain: Grapes for goodwill

Spaniards participate in one of the more well known, but still unusual, of all the New Year’s Eve traditions around the world. At the stroke of midnight, locals will eat one grape for every ring of the clock bell. That makes twelve grapes in total. Those who can accomplish this small task before the end of the bells will be rewarded with good luck in the year to come.

Unfortunately, it’s said those who fail to eat all twelve grapes in time will be punished with bad luck. Unlike many other New Year’s Eve traditions around the world, the Spanish practice of eating twelve grapes does not have religious significance. Instead, this tradition originates from the early 20th century. At this time, there was a massive grape harvest, more than there was a demand for. So the King gave the surplus to his citizens to consume on New Year’s Eve.

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The Netherlands: Oodles of oliebollen

The Dutch are hooked on the deep-fried doughy goodness of oliebollen every New Year’s Eve. These strange-sounding pastries are small dough balls that have been pan-fried in oil. Typical fillings include raisins and currants, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. The history of oliebollen is largely a mystery. But one story dating back to the time of ancient Germanic tribes is a favourite amongst many. It is one of the more sinister tales associated with New Year’s Eve around the world, but also one of the most fascinating. The tale tells of a goddess named Perchta the Belly Slitter. She was known for cutting open people’s stomachs and filling them with trash as a punishment for lacking Christmas cheer. It was believed that eating oliebollen would stop Perchta in her tracks. The high oil content would cause her sword to slide off without puncturing through a person’s skin.

Explore the painterly beauty of The Netherlands with Trafalgar on the Best of Holland tour.

Tonga: Church & community

You might be wondering, what country celebrates New Year’s first? Based on its location relevant to the International Dateline, the island of Tonga marks New Year’s first. As a devoutly Christian nation, Tongans ring in the new year with their families and the broader community at church services. These services are held at sunset and midnight, which both offer a stunning background to this joyous affair. Regardless of their religious background, anyone who attends these services can feel the unrestrained celebration in the air. These services are overflowing with song, with some even accompanied by brass bands from local schools.

Japan: Spiritual soba

The Japanese certainly have one of the tastiest New Year’s Eves around the world. They start off the New Year with a ritual called “toshikoshi soba”. Also known as “year-crossing noodles”, this tradition involves eating a steaming bowl of soba noodles. The origin of this custom is unknown, but it still retains a lot of significant symbolism. It is believed that the soba noodles themselves signify a lengthy and healthy life. Many also think that the resilience of the buckwheat plant (which is what soba noodles are made from) will give them strength for the new year to come. Some also understand the length of the noodle denotes the crossing from one year over to the following year. 

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Denmark: Plate party

Though it is one of the most cathartic New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world, this particular Danish practise is almost extinct. Once, New Year’s Eve for the Danish was all about smashing plates outside friends’ front doors. Some believed that this was a way to leave negativity and aggression in the past, to enter the new year with space for goodwill. Others likely just enjoyed smashing old crockery. It was understood that the bigger the pile of broken plates outside your front door, the more luck there was to be had in the coming year. 

Russia: Ashes for amity

At a glance, this Russian custom sounds like it would be one of the more sinister New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world. Luckily, the ashes involved in this New Year’s celebration are not human or even animal ashes. Rather, Russians write their wishes for the future on a piece of paper. Then, that paper is burnt and the ashes produced are poured into a glass of champagne and subsequently consumed. By, quite literally, internalising one’s hopes and dreams, it is believed they are more likely to come true.

Uncover the history of Russia and beyond with Trafalgar on the Best of Finland, Russia and The Baltic States tour.

China: Family feasting

Wondering what countries celebrate New Years on a different day? The first that comes to mind is China, of course! You’ve likely heard of Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year in the West. But in China, this holiday is about more than just shopping special sales and getting yum cha for dinner. For the Chinese, it is a must-do event that marks the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. One of the most loved traditions of the holiday is Reunion Dinner, which takes place on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Family members try very hard to make it back home to each other for this occasion. This multi-generational feast starts the new year off on a good note with a massive spread of lucky food. One very common food seen at these long meals are ‘Jiaozi’ (dumplings).

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Now, there’s no need to wonder how New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world; it’s time to start planning your next getaway to celebrate the upcoming year. Where would you like to go? Head to our website to discover more about New Year’s Eve all over the world and how you can experience it for yourself with Trafalgar!

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