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Around the World with New Year's Customs

BY MIRANDA NEELY 

 

When you think of New Years, do you picture the New York City Ball Drop in Times Square? Do you think about the massive fireworks show in Sydney Harbor, Australia? Perhaps you envision sharing a kiss with your love or drinking champagne with friends and family, or even singing Auld Lang Syne. All of these traditions are popular in many parts of the English speaking world. But there are so many fascinating celebrations in different countries and cultures to be discovered and experienced.

Perhaps the most well-known New Year celebration outside of the Gregorian calendar is the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year which marks the beginning of spring. Another well-known new year celebration is the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah which usually occurs in September. Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation of the world according to the Jewish faith.

Since many of us know at least a little about these new year celebrations, it seemed like a good time to take a dive into some lesser-known traditions. Many of these celebrations are equally as interesting and provide insight into the culture that celebrates the holiday. If we were to fly around the world in search of New Year celebrations, we would find no shortage of unique customs. Let's start by traveling east to Europe.

When visiting Scotland, you may consider attending Hogmanay. This holiday occurs on the last day of the year and is known for various local customs, including the fireball swinging of Stonehaven. This custom is exactly how it sounds and ends with any still lit fireballs being thrown into the harbor. Hogmanay finds its roots in ancient traditions but became more important to the Scots beginning around the 17th century when Christmas was officially banned. The ban was later lifted but Christmas festivities were frowned upon until the 1950s. In its place came Hogmanay. Gifts are exchanged, parties are held, and the new year is rung in with “flare” quite literally!

In Denmark, it is a tradition for families to save chipped or broken dishes that are thrown at the front door of friend’s and family’s houses. It is said that the more broken pieces found on a doorstep, the more popular this family or person is and the more good luck they will find in the new year.

If you head south to South Africa, you may encounter the infamous Johannesburg tradition of throwing out old furniture by tossing it out of the window. The practice has decreased in recent years due to safety concerns as large items were often thrown out including couches and refrigerators. This practice was to symbolize ridding the old and ringing in the new.

When flying west to visit Asia, you may find that New Year traditions throughout the continent range on when they are celebrated as many are guided by the Lunar Calendar. The Thai New Year, called Songkran, finds its origin in Buddhism and is traditionally celebrated on April 13th and extends through the 15th. The day starts with a visit to the temple where offerings are given. Water has long been symbolic as a sign of purification and is poured on statues of Buddha. One of the most exciting new year traditions I found involves the water fights where the streets are closed down for the occasion and modern adaptations include water guns used by young and old!

 

Further east, in Japan, the new year also finds its roots in the Buddhist tradition of Joya no Kane. Joya no Kane happens at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Buddhist temples where the bells are rung 108 times. This represents the number of human sins per Buddhist teachings and is believed to rid these worldly desires from each citizen.

We round out our journey around the world in South and Middle America where you will find an abundance of local traditions. Many Latin American countries practice cleaning the house or throwing a bucket of water out of the door or window to symbolize renewal and to get rid of bad luck. Another fun tradition in many countries involves walking in circles with a suitcase. This practice is believed to bring opportunities for travel in the new year. You may want to adopt this custom if you plan to visit other countries to join the local celebrations.

Wherever you find yourself on New Year’s Eve or if you are hoping to experience some new traditions and cultures, there are plenty of options. There is no wrong way to celebrate the holiday. You might even celebrate multiple times throughout the year as you know it. Remember to always be respectful when celebrating holidays outside of your culture. There are many other traditions that we didn't get to discover. So keep learning and take your pick of different new year holidays to celebrate.

Planning on your next trip to experience other cultures? Check out our sustainable travel collections crafted from apples, mangoes and cacti.  

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About the Writer

Miranda Neely studied literature and has since worked in various industries before returning to her passion for the written word. She enjoys researching clean alternatives to incorporate into her lifestyle and home that she shares with her husband and sweet pup. In her free time, you can find her crafting, reading a good book, or absorbing podcasts and nerd culture in mass.