Celebrating the New Year across the globe


From eating 12 grapes to wearing polka dots, the special day has many different traditions

Manifestazione di capodanno "Love 2009"

Doesn’t New Year’s Eve bear a comfortable familiarity?  Every year, we all know pretty much what’s in store. People dress up in celebratory outfits, children don wings, halos and carry glow sticks. Everyone awaits the big moment when one year will breathe its last and another will be born. Some stake out the best vantage points from the morning for the spectacular fireworks and the rowdy countdown to midnight. There are New Year Eve’s parties and picnics where people just let their hair down. That’s how Australia celebrates the start of the New Year, and that’s how it’s done all over the world, right? WRONG…

Some cultures take their New Year celebrations much more seriously in the belief that what you do on the birth of a year will reflect on how your luck will play out throughout the year.

South America

In South American culture something as simple as choosing the colour of your underwear on New Year’s Eve can play a vital role on how your luck will pan out for the next 12 months. It is serious business, so if you are looking for love you go for red, or if it is money you are after you dish out those bright yellow underpants.


Here, the First Foot New Year custom is quite common. It is believed that the first things a person sees when the New Year arrives is indicative of the rest of the year. A male is usually chosen to enter the house at midnight bearing symbols of prosperity like alcohol, food, money etc.


Two old New Year customs have survived in Denmark to this day. Leaping off chairs at the stroke of midnight is believed to ward off evil spirits and throwing crockery at friends’ houses is a reminder of love and friendship. People store away their cracked plates and bowls to throw at their friends’ houses on New Year. The more broken crockery you have at your door the next day the luckier you are because it is indicative of how many friends you have.


It is a long standing tradition in Spain to eat 12 grapes between the first and the twelfth stroke of midnight on New Year. It is believed that if you finish 12 grapes by the last stroke you will have 12 months of good luck.


Filipinos focus on round things on New Year. It is strongly believed that consuming round fruits and wearing clothes with circular patterns like polka dots ensures good luck for the rest of the year. It is associated with gaining wealth in the coming year as coins are round.


In Panama the New Year celebrations take on a macabre twist. Here, highly detailed dolls called muñecos are crafted of prominent celebrities and politicians and set alight on New Year.


A similar custom is also followed in Ecuador where people gather around in the neighbourhood and burn pictures of things they do not want in the New Year.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans clean and decorate their houses in preparation for the New Year. This is thought to cleanse the spirit and ward off bad luck. It is also customary to throw buckets of water out of windows to throw the old year out and make way for the new.


Staying with the spirits, Mexicans celebrate New Year’s Eve trying to communicate with the dead in order to seek guidance for the coming year. Short sessions of spiritualism, meditation and communication with the dead are offered at various places for a small price.


Chileans like to include their deceased ancestors in their New Year celebrations as well. The custom here in some cities is to participate in mass on New Year’s Eve and then visit the graveyard to await the New Year with the dead.


In Ireland, single women place mistletoe leaves under their pillow on New Year’s Eve in the hope of finding love and getting married in the coming year. The mistletoe leaves are also believed to deflect bad luck.


The New Year celebration or the Hogmanay Festival is bigger than Christmas in Scotland. On New Year’s Eve men parade the streets swinging huge balls of fire attached to chains, over their heads. In the Scottish culture, it is believed that the fire symbolises purity and is thought to bring sunshine and hope. At the end of the ceremony the fire balls are thrown into the sea.


So the fact remains that despite all of our little differences, deep down we are all quite similar in our belief that a new year symbolises hope and comes with a promise of new beginnings. In all cultures it is considered a time to make resolutions to give up bad habits, adopt good changes and look forward to a better future. Here’s to the new year.



PULLQUOTE: It is a long standing tradition in Spain to eat 12 grapes between the first and the twelfth stroke of midnight on New Year