While a lot of these traditions are fairly universal, let's explore some of the New Year's Eve traditions found around the world!
Spain: Cava. Grapes. Red Underwear.
Last year I spent my New Year's Eve in Madrid, Spain. While there were many parallels in our culture, there are certain New Year's traditions that were new to me.
Cava is a Catalan sparkling wine (or what you know as Champagne).
Much like the US, the Spanish also ring in the new year, or what they call "Nochevieja," with a glass of Cava.
At the strike of midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, or uvas, one for every chime of the clock, which are thought to bring good luck for the New Year.
A unique custom of the Spanish new year, is that the Spanish wear red underwear on the holiday.
While the meaning might be lost on some, it is thought to symbolize life during the winter or good luck. Don't buy them for yourself though! These must be gifted to you.
Unlike the US, the evening is primarily a family event. Families ring in the New Year at home, rather than with friends. Then, after midnight, they will join up with their friends to go out all night until sunrise.
Mexico: Rosca de Reyes. Color symbology. Burn away last year's bad memories.
Like Spain and other Spanish speaking countries, Mexicans also take part in the tradition of eating grapes at midnight, but for them, each grape symbolizes a wish.
Another tradition involves baking a sweet bread called Rosca de Reyes, also known as King's Cake, that is baked with a coin or charm inside for luck. When the bread is served, the person that finds the coin/charm in their slice is thought to have good luck all year. This is also practiced in many other countries around the globe.
Tamales are made in abundance during this time of year and given as gifts to family and friends.
Homes are decorated in colors which symbolize different wishes for the New Year. Yellow: employment, Red: love, White: health, Green: financial improvement.
Lists of unhappy life events over the past year are written down and then burned in a fire before midnight, which means the renewal of the new year and removal of negative energy.
Scotland: Hogmany. First footing. Fire.
Stemming from ancient pagan rituals, the viking invasion and superstition, the celebration of Hogmanay is still alive and well in Scotland.
Nowadays, the tradition of First Footing is still practiced, where the first person to cross a home's threshold after midnight determines the luck of the homeowner for the next year.
The ideal visitor comes bearing gifts of whiskey or spirits, coal for the fire, cakes/bread, salt, or a coin...and must have dark hair. Blonde visitors are a bad omen of the light haired vikings invading Scotland.
The use of fire to ward off evil spirits is another pagan ritual that has been transformed and still used today in New Year's celebrations. Some areas have large bonfires, and others have torch-lit processions, or fireworks.
Philippines: Polka dots. Round food. Throwing coins.
Wearing polka dots is commonplace on New Year's Eve, with their pockets filled with coins to jingle in their pockets or throw in the air come midnight.
Circles signify the belief that money and fortune will come their way, so it is ever present in their New Year's traditions. Eating circular shaped fruits and foods is another tradition that is still widely practiced.
A barbecued meal is usually customary with family, including roasted pig, but you'll still see round dishes of food on the table as well.
Children jump up 12 times at the stroke of midnight which is thought to help them grow taller.
Pots and pans and noisemakers are used to ring in the new year and ward off bad spirits.
Japan: Cleaning of the house. Postcards. Osechi.
Oshogatsu, or New Years, is the most important holiday for the Japanese. This starts with osoji or the cleaning of the house, to purify it for the new year. According to the tradition of Shinto, a kami (god) enters the house at New Year's so it must be cleaned to welcome the god.
Mailing postcards to friends and family on New Year's Day in Japan (nengajō) is the equivalent of mailing Christmas Cards in Western cultures. As long as the postcards are postmarked by the end of the month with the word nengajō written on them, the post office promises to have them all delivered on January 1st.
Otoshidama is the practice of giving money to children. It is handed out in small envelopes, and the amount varies by the children's age.
Food also plays a huge part in the celebration, and their meal is called Osechi. The food selection consists of mainly well preserved items that will last several days into the new year. Why? The New Year's god is not to be bothered by the noises made by cooking for the first three days of the New Year. Among these food items are kuromame (sweet black beans), kazunoko (herring roe), and kobumaki (rolled kelp).
Denmark: Kransekage. Smashed dishes. Jumping off chairs.
You may remember this delectable dessert from our Top 40 Alternative Weddings Cakes blog, but the Kransekage (wreath cake) is traditionally served for New Year's. Layered rings stacked on top of each other, often house a bottle of wine, candies, or other small treats. Kransekage is served following the traditional dish of cod fish for dinner.
In Denmark, New Year's Eve is spent with friends over family.
Just before midnight, many Danes will stand on a chair and jump off at midnight, scaring away evil spirits and leaping into January with good luck!
One very Danish tradition is throwing breakable dishes at your friends' and neighbors' doorsteps. The more broken dishes you have, the better, suggesting you have a lot of friends and well wishers for the new year. While I can't be sure many still participate in this tradition, it is still one of the most interesting ones I've come across.
Germany: Dinner for One. Pouring lead. Marzipan pigs.
A comedy sketch play called "Dinner for One" from 1963 has been played by several television networks since 1972. Although it doesn't have anything to do with the new year, it has become a recent tradition to watch it on New Year's Eve.
Bleigießen, or pouring lead, is another German New Year's custom. Molton lead is dropped into cold water and fortunes are told based on the shapes that occur.
Marzipan treats in the shape of a pig, or Glücksschwein (lucky pig), are given as gifts for the new year.
Happy New Year!
No matter where you'll be celebrating the New Year, the commonalities of spending time with family, starting anew, and food aplenty can be found worldwide!
What are you doing for New Year's Eve? What traditions take place in your household?