New Year’s Traditions Around the World

An example of a new years resolution, which depicts the process of achieving ones goals.

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An example of a new year’s resolution, which depicts the process of achieving one’s goals.

A new year, a new beginning. At the start of a new year, many want to start it off strong and stay that way throughout the rest of the twelve months. Around the world, there are many unique and intriguing traditions that varying cultures think would ensure good luck and start the new year on a good note. Whether it be eating certain foods, dressing up in specific clothes, or something entirely different, each culture has its traditions to get rid of the bad things from the previous year and welcome the new year.

In many cultures, eating a specific food is a great way to bring in luck for the new year. In Japan, it’s a tradition to eat toshikoshi soba, a dish with long buckwheat noodles. The noodles symbolize longevity, and the hearty buckwheat plant represents resilience. On the other hand, many think that eating something round would do the trick. In Italy, the round shape of lentils represents coins, and consuming them would help in experiencing peace and luck for the entirety of the new year. Likewise, in the southern United States, black-eyed peas represent the same. In the Philippines, eating twelve round fruits could ensure a year of abundance, especially if eaten once a month. The number twelve is also important in other traditions. A custom in Spain is to eat exactly twelve grapes at each stroke of midnight, as it represents every month of the new year. Eating all of the grapes would guarantee a lucky year. However, if not all the grapes were finished a minute after midnight, one would face misfortune for the next twelve months. Furthermore, because pigs represent progress and prosperity in many cultures, it is commonly found in New Year’s dishes in countries like Cuba, Austria, Hungary, and Portugal. 

Eating certain pastries and desserts is quite a common practice as well. In the Netherlands, Mexico, and Greece, ring-shaped cakes and pastries are eaten at the end of meals, symbolizing that the year has come in a full circle. Those in Norway and Sweden, on the other hand, serve rice pudding with an almond hidden inside on New Year’s Eve. Whoever finds the hidden nut would expect twelve months of good fortune and sometimes even a prize. Similarly, this game of chance can also be found in Greece. Those who are lucky to find the coin baked in the vasilopita (a cake or sweet bread) would be granted luck for the upcoming year. 

Instead of eating food, other cultures believe that wearing particular clothing guarantees a great year. In the Philippines, people enjoy wearing clothes with polka dots. On the other hand, those in Brazil wear white during New Years as white brings good luck and peace. The color can also be associated with new beginnings, purity, and a fresh start. Besides white, wearing gold is common during the New Year because gold represents prosperity and riches. Red, silver, and purple are symbolic colors as well, representing good luck, financial success, and ambition. 

Although making a New Year’s resolution sounds typical, the tradition of doing so is, in fact, very old. To be more specific, the custom is more than 4,000 years old. Historians believe that the Babylonians were one of the first cultures to commemorate the changing of the years and did so by promising to pay debts or return borrowed objects. Nowadays, it’s very common to make a New Year’s resolution to better oneself, whether to eat less junk food, improve grades, or get out more. 

Another popular tradition during the New Year’s is to watch the ball drop in New York City’s Time Square, which started in 1907. Yearly, crowds gather in the area to watch the ball drop, marking the start of a new year. The first ball drop was made of iron and wood, but currently, the iron and wood structure has been replaced with a 12-foot, 11,875-pound sphere, covered with 2,688 crystal triangles and 32,356 LEDs. Many towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Time Square ball drop as well.

There are various traditions of celebrating New Year’s around the world, and they are all essential to the identity of their respective countries. Each culture has its own unique way of commemorating the changing of the years, whether it be wearing certain clothes, eating specific foods, or making a resolution to better oneself. Overall, the beginning of a new year is a great way to start fresh, say goodbye to the bad, and bring in the new.