New Years Traditions Around the World & How You Can Respectfully Participate

December 28, 2021

NewYears

Celebrating the new year has been practiced for thousands of years. Today, people around the world still gather together and ring in the new year in various ways. Cities all over the planet put on huge firework shows and the people party all night long. This is a unifying night, and one that every culture has a tradition for in one way or another. You’ll find that there are many similarities between these, and in this way, learning about them can feel affirming.

Here are just a few New Year’s traditions from around the world, and how you can respectfully participate in them:

Denmark: Jump off of a chair and eat Wreath Cake!

At midnight, Danes stand on a chair and take a leap off of it to bring luck to the upcoming year! They also eat a tower of ring cakes, called kransekage, or wreath cake after a meal of boiled cod and mustard. If you’d like to ring in the year like a Dane, roast up some tofu cod and make some mustard sauce. Top it with dill and cranberries, and it’s the best Danish New Year’s dish. Afterwards, eat kransekage and get ready to jump off a chair! Be safe, and this will be a fun way to jump into the new year and consciously wish yourself luck. Danes also smash dishes on the front steps of their loved ones for luck—the more shards, the better!

Japan: Eat soba noodles!

Soba noodles are long, and in Japan this represents the “year-crossing,” or the length from one year to the next. They specifically eat Toshikoshi soba, and it also represents cutting off the old year and all its regrets. Consider eating some on New Year’s Eve, and thinking about all that you want to let go of. It’s very therapeutic, but make sure to think about those who honor this tradition yearly—the Japanese.

soba

United States of America: Watch the Ball drop in NYC and kiss!

Every New Year’s Eve, Americans around the country turn on their TVs to watch a giant ball descend down a pole on top of a building in Times Square, eventually landing on a light structure of the next year (2022 in this case). This illuminates it, and is a process that starts at 11:59 and ends at midnight. At that point, confetti is thrown and people kiss each other, and drink champagne into the night. Consider watching the event on television or YouTube! Have biodegradable confetti ready (like leaves that you hole-punched), and throw it when the ball drops! Drink your favorite champagne or sparkling cider, and if you feel comfortable, kiss your S.O.

Spain: Eat 12 grapes!

For good luck, the Spanish eat 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve (called las doce uvas de la suerte). They eat one grape for every chime of midnight. Now, this has been popularized around Central and South America as well! Pick grapes that grow well in Spain to honor them, and eat them as you mentally thank the people there for this fun tradition. Bonus points if you have a chiming clock at the ready, or use a triangle to make your own!

The Philippines: Eat 12 round fruits and wear polka dots!

Thanks to the round shape signifying wealth or luck in Filipino culture, those in the country ring in the new year by eating 12 round fruits. They arrange them in the middle of the table, and eat them as a midnight meal. They also wear polka dots to further secure abundance for the new year! Consider wearing them too, and building a platter of round fruits…and learning more about the Philippines as you eat them!

round

Greece: Hang onions and hide a coin in a cake!

In Greece, people hang onions on the 31st to signify rebirth. This is done in the hopes of growth in the new year. In the evening, they bake a cake-like bread called vasilopita and hide a coin in it. They serve the oldest first, but set aside a piece for St. Basil and those in need. Whoever finds the coin in their slice will have a lucky new year! To participate, hang onions or pictures of onions around your house (or on your door), and consider using onions in your cuisine that day if you’re really wanting to honor the onion symbolism more. Then of course, bake a Greek cake (or your favorite one), hide the coin…you know the rest.

BrazilEat 7 pomegranate seeds and 7 grapes, then jump over 7 waves!

On this holiday, seven is a lucky number for Brazilians. On New Year’s Eve, they eat seven pomegranate seeds to ensure financial wealth and stability, and seven grapes for overall abundance in the upcoming year. In the south, and a few regions in the north, people then run out to the beach to jump over seven waves while making a wish per jump! If you want to join in on the fun, eat the seven bits of each fruit, and consider spending the new year at the sea so you can also jump in the waves! If you’re inland this year, why not just jump seven times while listening to ocean sounds and making wishes? It’s all festive, and a great way to participate! Brazilians also wear white on the holiday to signify peace, so feel free to add that to the festivities!

waves

Italy: Eat lentils for dinner!

Due to their coin-like shape, Italians associate the legume with prosperity! Thanks to this, they incorporate it into their New Year’s Eve feasts, to usher in good luck for the new year. If you want to join in, make sure to include some in your dinner, and think about what would make you feel lucky in the upcoming year. They’re great with roasted tofu or in a grain bowl!

Russia: Give gifts!

Christmas was banned in Soviet Russia, so Russians adapted by instead giving gifts on the next holiday—New Year’s Eve! It is said that Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, delivers them with his granddaughter, Snegourochka. Why not give gifts to your loved ones this holiday, or make donations? Consider reading stories of Father Frost or eating Russian foods to accompany the celebrations!

Colombia: Run around the block with a suitcase!

This tradition is supposed to ensure a year filled with plenty of travel! The tradition is also popular in the Caribbean and Central America, where people all around the nations will grab a suitcase and run around the block with their families. Want to participate? Feel free to run around inside your home with a suitcase or a purse, thinking about where you’d want to go!

Ireland: Bang bread on the walls!

Banging bread on your walls is believed to not only chase off evil spirits, but to usher in a year that brings with it plenty to eat. Consider baking some crusty bread (or use an Irish bread recipe), and banging it on your walls as you think about abundance.

Turkey: Smash a pomegranate on your front step and sprinkle salt!

Pomegranates represent abundance in this area of the world, so the act of smashing one on the front step is one that welcomes that into the upcoming year. The more pieces, the more abundance will be had. The salt symbolizes peace. Consider eating pomegranates or mashing them up to eat—or feel free to smash them outside, making sure to clean up well after. Sprinkle salt or place bottles of it around your house, and think about the peace you’d like to bring into your life this year. Even salting your driveway is a great way to nod to this tradition!

pomegranate

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Photo: Emily Iris Degn

Emily Iris Degn
Emily Iris Degn is an environmental travel writer, editor, passionate eco-journalist, professional artist, and published eco-poet. She is from the San Juan Islands, but currently lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her incredible partner and beloved sea shell collection. You can find her in many spaces on Instagram: @emilyirisdegn @happyvegansfeed @emfallstoearth @emilydegnart OR at emilyirisdegn.com.

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