Twelve months ago, I was celebrating Christmas and New Year in the U.K. and as Brits this is our biggest celebration (unless you are Scottish and then it is all about ‘Hogmanay’). On Christmas Eve, the kids will leave out a traditional British mince pie, a glass of sherry for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer. This year, my boys are also leaving him a bottle of hand sanitizer to stop Santa turning into a one-man super spreader. Christmas Day includes serving turkey with ‘pigs in blankets’ (sausages wrapped in bacon), pulling crackers (the tiny explosive devices that contain a paper hat, a joke, and an awful plastic toy) and watching the Queens speech at 3pm. Traditionally celebrated with family and close friends, Christmas day rolls into Boxing Day, which is a national holiday in the U.K. and we continue our celebrations by visiting those we did not see on Christmas Day. No sooner is that complete, and our thoughts turn to New Year, including what we should eat (it’s all about the food) and who we should celebrate with. This year looks different for us with our family many miles away, so we thought we would take a look at how others are celebrating around the world.
One of the biggest Spanish (and Mexican) New Year’s traditions is to eat one grape on every chime of the last 12 seconds of the year so that by the time it strikes midnight, you will have stuffed a total of 12 grapes into your mouth. If you manage to chew and swallow them in time, it is said to bring you good luck for the entire year.
In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is known as ‘Hogmany’, is celebrated traditionally through ‘first-footing’, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake), intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests.
New Year’s Eve is known as ‘Silvester’ in Germany and also marks the feast of St Sylvester. Friends will wish each other ‘Prost Neujahr!’ or Guten Rausch, which literally means ‘good slide,’ and is said to wish someone good luck as the new year comes round.
A little-known tradition in some parts of Germany is to melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle, then pour the liquid into cold water. The bizarre shapes from the Bleigießen (lead pouring) are supposed to reveal what the year ahead will bring. If the lead forms a ball, luck will roll one’s way, while the shape of a crown means wealth; a cross signifies death and a star will bring happiness.
In some parts of the south of Ireland there is a custom called the "New Year's Swim". In the morning of the New Year many people dive into the cold sea, but only for a few minutes.
In some areas of Mexico, it is traditional to leave lentils at your door on New Year’s eve or eat lentil soup before midnight, and wear red (or yellow) underwear.
If lentils are not appealing, then it is also traditional to wear brightly colored underwear. Different colors symbolize different things, for example, red signifies love; white underwear brings peace and calm and attracts dignity; wear green for good health; and orange for wisdom.
You can also burn your negative thoughts – make a list and burn it (safely), and legend states that bad vibes won’t come back to haunt you.
A Danish New Year’s Eve tradition is to throw plates and dishes against friend’s and neighbor’s front doors. The bigger the pile of broken china is the next morning, the more friends and good luck you’ll have in the coming year. Another custom in Denmark is the jumping off chairs at midnight, symbolizing the leap into the New Year.
In Ecuador, people build scarecrow-like to set them alight. Burning the año viejo (old year) is meant to destroy all the bad things from the last year and cleanse for the new.
In Naples, people toss everything from toasters to fridges off their balconies. Getting rid of old possessions symbolizes a fresh start in the new year. It is worth knowing before you try this that most locals stick to small and soft objects to avoid injuries!
At midnight, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells 108 times to dispell the 108 evil passions all human beings have, according to Buddhism. Japanese believe that joyanokane, the ringing of the bells, will cleanse them from their sins of the previous year. Traditionally, 107 bells are rung on the last day of the year and the 108th in the new year. In addition, many people eat buckwheat noodles called toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve to symbolize the wish for a long life.