NEW YEAR’S FESTIVALS AROUND THE WORLD
Some of the world’s New Year’s traditions have an air of seriousness about them. They’re tied up in ancient religious rituals. Official decrees have created them. Or maybe they involve impressively massive fires in public spaces. Regardless, it’s essential to recognize why we celebrate the New Year the way we do.
Scotland: Celebrating Hogmanay, which denotes the last day of the year, is a big deal in Scotland. So much so that it often overshadows Christmas. Christmas was outlawed by the Church of Scotland for nearly four centuries, until 1958. Though the holiday has regained its popularity, the New Year Festival of Hogmanay still holds a sacred place in Scottish hearts.
Australia: Sydney Harbour hosts one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. It’s mid-summer in the southern hemisphere, and thousands of people gathered around the Opera House in anticipation. An aerial show and water display kick off the celebration at 6 pm. A family-friendly fireworks show starts at 9 pm, while the main attraction– the Harbour Light Parade– is at midnight.
Belarus: In Belarus, New Year’s is included as a part of a 13-day festival known as Kaliady. Keady originates from the old pagan recognition of the winter solstice. It was only later that the Orthodox Christians added the celebration of Christmas (on January 7). Keady has conventional foods in three ritual dinners, trick-or-treating, caroling, and more.
Netherlands: Amsterdam hosts one of the world’s largest street parties on New Year’s Eve. If you attend, buy some oliebollen (oily balls) to eat at midnight. Tradition holds that eating these deep-fried dough balls will ward off evil spirits in the New Year. Dam Square (the craziest), Rembrandtplein, Nieuwmarkt, and Leidseplein host private street parties with music, fireworks and beer tents. Amsterdam’s celebration is not for the casual partier: Some attendees have likened it to a war zone!
United States: Each year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to New York City to see the Big Apple drop at midnight. This New Year’s Eve tradition began as a replacement for fireworks, which had been banned in New York. In addition to watching balls drop, in other US cities, you can watch peaches, giant walleye, and other locally relevant symbols lowered as the clock strikes midnight.
NEW YEAR TRADITIONS FOR GOOD LUCK
One of my favorite things about New Year’s proper luck rituals is that not all of them seem entirely sane. Many of the traditions we’ve already learned about on this list probably look a bit off-the-wall. Here are a few that seemingly come out of nowhere, but remain integral pieces of some countries’ annual New Year customs.
Colombia: One of Colombians’ favorite ways to celebrate the New Year is to carry an empty suitcase around the block. The tradition is meant to bring celebrants a year of travel (which hopefully will involve a little more packing).
Denmark: Many of the world’s New Year’s traditions revolve around the stroke of midnight: fireworks blasting off, the ball dropping, kissing a loved one, toasting with champagne, etc. In Denmark, people jump off of their chairs in unison at midnight. This symbolizes climbing forward into the new year and leaving bad things behind.
Belgium: In Belgium, Walloon and Flemish farmers rise early on New Year’s Day and promptly head out the stables to wish the cows (and other domesticated animals) a happy New Year. Though the origins of this tradition are unknown, the same thing is also practiced in Romania.
Finland: Going to a fortune-teller can either be a fun or harrowing experience. But one Nordic New Year tradition involves reading the future for yourself. Finnish people melt tin horseshoes, pour the molten metal into cold water, and use the resulting solid to gain insight into the coming year. Its shape and shadow supposedly tell-all, and a broken piece of tin is considered a sure sign of bad luck.
Japan: In Japan, Joya no Kane is a Buddhist ritual that takes place at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It involves ringing a bell precisely 108 times. Buddhists believe that we humans are entrapped by 108 different desires that keep us suffering. The chimes symbolize purification from the accumulation of these passions over the previous year.
Chile: In the small town of Tulsa, Chile, it is a tradition to spend the last night of the year at a sleepover at the cemetery. Locals believe that the souls of dearly departed friends and family come to hang around on the night of New Year’s Eve. So they make fires, bring food and drink, and decorate their loved ones’ graves for some ghostly quality time.
Ecuador: In Ecuador, Los años viejos (the old years) is a beloved part of how to celebrate the New Year. People construct giant scarecrows of those they don’t like and set them alight at midnight to burn away the ills of last year. Building the scarecrow is a family activity. While it’s mostly done for fun and laughs, controlling the bevy of fires is sometimes a severe undertaking.
Panama: Panama has a similar “Viejo” tradition to the one in Ecuador. Only here the effigies are called muñecos. Rather than simply setting them on fire, the dolls are typically stuffed with fireworks to get the festivities cranking.