As we begin to wrap up the holidays with a big red bow and prepare for the year ahead, we decided to take a closer look at how different cultures around the globe celebrate the New Year.
After all, New Year’s is about as close to a global holiday as we get. And more to that point, it shows that it’s possible to localize a holiday according to the country and culture in which it’s celebrated.
Much has changed since New Year officially became a “thing” in Babylon thousands of years ago. Then again, a lot of interesting customs and beliefs are still alive and well.
Which long-time cultural traditions persist to this day? What symbol-rich activities bring good luck, fertility or wealth for the year ahead? Which people still play with fire (more like, which cultures don’t)? Let’s spotlight a few countries with some notable New Year customs.
Belarusians ramp up their revelries during the two weeks leading up to the New Year on January first, which includes festive garb and fairs. Concerts and open-air parties take center stage on the night of December 31, when folks really let loose.
Fortune-telling also plays a part in Belarusian festivities. One ritual, in particular, is meant to predict marriage. A rooster struts around a table of young women, each of whom has a pile of corn in front of her. The one whose corn is eaten by the rooster is the young woman whose marriage is foretold in the coming year.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Brazil during New Year’s Eve, an event with the French name of Réveillon, you’d most likely be partying with thousands along the beach. This major day of celebration marks the beginning of the summer holidays, which, let’s face it, is reason enough to celebrate.
Along with midnight fireworks and public concerts, Revéillon revelers traditionally leave offerings for Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea. Locals also wear new white clothing to help bring luck into the year ahead.
The Japanese have been celebrating the New Year on January 1 in accordance with the Gregorian calendar ever since 1873, when Japan switched from the Chinese lunar calendar.
One of the hallmarks of a Japanese New Year’s celebration is watching the annual sing-off television program, Kōhaku, or “Red and White Song Battle,” which debuted as a radio show in 1951. Other celebratory activities include giving money to children on New Year’s Day (sometimes as much as what equates to one hundred dollars!) and sending cards to family and loved ones.
Additional traditions include Hastumode—visiting a shrine or temple for the first time in the New Year to pray for a prosperous year—and bell ringing at midnight believed to banish sins from the past year.
New Year’s Eve in Scotland is always cheerfully anticipated and known as Hogmanay. Fireworks, torchlight processions and lads swinging fireballs are common during the festivities. (Yes, fireballs. Big ones.) As in many cultures, fire symbolizes purification and getting rid of nasty spirits, particularly ones from the year before that keep pestering you.
In addition to copious amounts of whiskey, there’s a tradition known as first footing. The first person to set foot in your house could bring luck—especially if the said visitor was a tall, dark and handsome gentleman.
And lest we forget, “Auld Lange Syne”—that beloved tune we all self-consciously mumble through at midnight—comes from a 1788 poem penned by one of Scotland’s own poets, Robert Burns.
In Tibet, the New Year holiday is called Losar and celebrated in January or February at the time of the new moon. In addition to customary housecleaning rituals, Tibetans prepare a special soup served with dumplings that are stuffed with wool, coin, wood scraps, paper, pebbles or charcoal, used to foretell the future of those who find them.
On the day of Tibetan New Year Tibetans will replace the old “Fragrant Curtain” with the new one on the door and window. “Fragrant Curtain” (also known as Xiangbu in Chinese) is a frequently-seen decoration hanging on the door or window of Tibetan buildings. It is made of colorful silk, with white, red, blue, and yellow colors. Traditionally, the fragrant curtain is changed once a year for peace and auspicious beginning.
Other Tibetan traditions include celebrating the New Year through dance, ceremonies and pilgrimages.
Regardless of the mode of celebration or even the calendar system it’s based on, this festive global holiday serves to bind us all together with a mixed bag of traditions. At the same time, it’s a vibrant manifestation of how a holiday goes through its own form of localization—which we find particularly fascinating.
At Acolad, we’re fortunate to be working with people all over the world and to learn about different cultures, customs and beliefs. What are your family traditions on New Year’s Eve?