Ringing in the New Year is a beloved custom no matter where you’re from. All around the world, people take part in their own unique celebration of new and change. This is a time to come together, participate in old customs, and remember the good times from the past year. For many parts of the world, it’s also an opportunity to look back on deceased relatives and purify the soul for the year ahead.
While you might think New Year’s Eve traditions look the same everywhere, this is far from the case. Every place on the globe seemingly has its own way to ring in the new year, whether they follow the Gregorian calendar or their own calendar. In this guide, we’ll take a trip to explore some of the different traditions around the world. Maybe you’ll be inspired to add some of these ideas to your own New Year’s celebration!
1. Khmer New Year in Cambodia
The Cambodian New Year follows the end of the harvest season, and it’s an opportunity to relax after a year of hard work. This New Year belongs to the Khmer people, a minority group in Cambodia, though people of all backgrounds are welcome to join in on the fun.
During the Khmer New Year, people clean their homes, give food to monks, and play special games. There are altars to the dead, and it’s important to take this time to honor your ancestors as they’re the protectors of the family.
2. Suitcases in Colombia
Suitcases pack a world of symbolism into compact luggage, and this is especially true in Colombia. On New Year’s Eve, many Colombians take part in a unique ritual to welcome good luck in the new year.
Once the clock strikes midnight, Colombians walk or jog around their house or apartment building holding an empty suitcase. Why a suitcase? It’s a wanderlust-inspired wish for more travel opportunities in the year to come!
3. Lead Pouring in Germany
In Germany, there’s a New Year’s practice called bleigiessen. This literally translates to lead pouring, and it’s not something you’re likely to see in other parts of the world. During this tradition, Germans pour a bit of molten lead in cold water. The lead forms a shape that predicts something about the year to come.
If the person sees a heart in the lead, for example, love is in their future. If they see a crown, they might encounter wealth. This might be a bit silly, but there’s no denying it’s a good way to build excitement about the months ahead.
4. Underwear in Mexico
Speaking of predicting what’s to come in the New Year, many people in Mexico have a unique way of welcoming a certain change in their life. There’s superstition around underwear when ringing in the New Year.
People believe that wearing a certain color of underwear brings different outcomes to the wearer. For instance, wearing yellow brings success. This gives new meaning to picking out your underwear!
5. Grapes in Spain
Grapes are more than just a delicious fruit (or soon-to-be wine). In Spain, winegrowers in the early 1900s looked for a way to increase the demand for grapes. They decided to start a tradition to encourage people to consume 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve at midnight to bring happiness in the New Year.
Even a hundred years later, this tradition is alive and well in many parts of Spain. To make one’s New Year prosperous, one must eat a grape for each bell toll at midnight. This tradition was so popular it even spread to many places in Latin America.
6. Out the Window in Italy
In Naples, Italy, people gave new meaning to the phrase “out with the old.” On New Year’s Eve, old things like furniture, appliances, and clothes are literally thrown out the window.
This is something Napels have come to look forward to, though it does make a bit of a mess. People are more mindful nowadays, but you’ll still see many Neapolitans going “out with the old, in with the new.”
7. Celebrating the Dead in Chile
In Chile, one’s ancestry is incredibly important. To honor those who passed on, Chileans flock to graveyards on New Year’s Eve. This is when they pay homage to their dead relatives and bring offerings to honor their memory.
It goes beyond just bringing flowers, however. Many Chileans bring wine, champagne, and other party treats to quite literally “party” with the dead on this special day. You can’t deny this is a special way to remember a family member!
8. Plates in Denmark
Who doesn’t love breaking something from time to time? It’s a therapeutic way to rid yourself of negative feelings. In Denmark, it’s New Year’s Eve tradition to throw plates and dishes against the front doors of friends and neighbors. This might seem like a mess, but it’s actually all about having fun.
In the morning, everyone checks their front doors to see how many broken plates they have. The more dishes, the more popular the person. As you might expect, it’s become quite the popularity contest.
9. Scarecrows in Ecuador
Similar to Denmark, people in Ecuador also have a tendency to destroy things on New Year’s Eve. People build scarecrow dolls that look like politicians, famous people, and stars to set on fire on this day. This symbolizes the burning of old things to cleanse for the new.
This unique tradition actually stems from the Yellow Fever epidemic, which hit the town in the 1890s. During the epidemic, people packed infected clothes into coffins to burn as a way to purify the area.
10. Round Things in the Philippines
In the Philippines, people try their best to welcome wealth into their lives during the New Year. They do this with good luck charms, all of which have to be round. Round things are symbolic of money in the Philippines, and people are known to go overboard in their pursuit of more wealth.
On New Year’s Eve, everyone fills their pockets with round coins for good luck. People also wear clothes with polka dots, and circular food is enjoyed by families.
11. First Foot in Scotland
Have you ever heard the phrase “put your best foot forward?” What about “first foot?” In Scotland, “first-foot” is when you cross the threshold after midnight. According to Scottish folklore, a tall man “first-foots” to your home at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. He brings whiskey, bread, coins, and salt as a sign of good luck.
Where did this tradition come from? Most believe it dates back to the days of Vikings when blond strangers arrived at your doorstep to cause trouble. Having the opposite appearance at your home became a sign of good luck.
12. Animal Costumes in Romania
For a country rich in tradition like Romania, putting a unique spin on New Year’s Eve is a must. Each year on this special day, dancers and performers dress up in furs and masks to resemble bears, goats, and horses. These performers then dance their way from house to house.
All of this dancing is a way to ward off evil spirits and welcome positivity in the New Year. According to local folklore, bears are a sign of health and prosperity.
13. Potato Drop in the United States
The U.S. is already home to a lot of unique customs and parties on New Year’s Eve, but few are as special as the potato drop in Boise, Idaho. With Idaho known for its potatoes, it’s not a big surprise that this beloved crop would be part of the New Year’s Eve party.
Each year, over 40,000 people gather to watch the potato drop from the sky as the clock strikes midnight. This resembles a few other “dropping” parties around the country, but who doesn’t love potatoes?
14. Rings in Japan
Japan has a lot of superstitions about what brings good and bad luck. One of the ways to welcome luck is through the ringing of bells. In Japan, Buddhist temples ring their bells a total of 108 times to ward off the 108 evil passions that tempt all humans.
The ringing of these bells cleanses the soul of any past sins, and it’s also a great symbol of change and newness. People gather around these Buddhist temples to listen to the famous ringing.
Evoke the New Year in Style
While in the United States people stay busy making their New Year’s resolutions, people in other parts of the globe partake in their own exciting traditions. This list shines a light on some of the wackier ways people come together for this time of year, but it’s far from complete. Local cultures, families, and even individuals all find their own way to make New Year’s Eve special.
Ultimately, these traditions form a beautiful symbol of the importance of change. Even if the past year didn’t go as planned, brighter days are always closer than we think. How do you celebrate the New Year?
Looking for more New Year's Eve traditions? Read our guide on New Year's Eve food traditions from around the globe and New Year's Eve rituals for good luck.
- Carter, Wibke. “12 Weird New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World.” Fodor’s Travel. 25 December 2017. Fodors.com.
- Farley, David. “Unusual and Wacky New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World.” Newsweek. 19 December 2019. Newsweek.com.
- Johnson, Ben. “The History of Hogmanay.” The History and Heritage Accommodation Guide. Historic-uk.com.
- Koehler, Jeff. “Green Grapes and Red Underwear: A Spanish New Year’s Eve.” NPR: The Salt. 31 December 2012. NPR.org.
- Meier, Allison. “Spongebob in Flames: The New Year’s Eve Effigy Burning in Ecuador.” Atlas Obscura. 31 December 2013. AtlasObscura.com.
- “Watch: Idaho Potato Drop Rings in the New Year in Downtown Boise.” KTVB. 24 December 2019. KTVB.com.
- “Why do we ring the temple bell 108 times on New Year’s Eve?” Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin. 2 January 2017. HawaiiBetsuin.org.