Bringing in the New Year is a special occasion celebrated around the world. The moment is always joyous, but traditions differ country to country and are sometimes surprising. Let’s go on a small trip around the planet on the 31st of December at midnight…
Australia is the first country to celebrate New Year’s Day. In Sydney, on the evening of the last day of the year, more than one million people gather around the Opera House to enjoy a magnificent firework display overlooking the famous Harbour Bridge.
In the land of the Rising Sun
At the end of the year, the Japanese clean their houses in order to purify it of the last year. On the 31st of December before midnight, Japanese families listen to 108 gongs in a Buddhist temple, which announce the arrival of the New Year. This ritual helps purify the souls of the 108 faults which afflict man.
Over the Atlantic
On the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people converge on Times Square in New York to witness a tradition that is more than a century old: the 60 second-drop, counting down to midnight, of a multicolor crystal ball along a pylon. This custom, broadcast live on television, stems from a signal used in the past to indicate midnight in the ports.
On the Old Continent
In Germany, at midnight, there are large firework displays and explosions of firecrackers which once served to drive out evil spirits. In the United Kingdom, for good luck in the New Year, someone has to cross the threshold of the house holding salt (symbol of food), coal (symbol of heat), and coins (symbol of wealth). In Italy, the tradition for ladies is to wear red lingerie on the 31st of December. This would bring love and luck if the lingerie is thrown away the next day. Another transalpine tradition, which is more dangerous: throwing old and broken objects out of the window, as well as old tableware, a symbol of uselessness and superfluity and a promise of a new beginning for the New Year. (A popular tradition in Naples.) In Spain, Portugal and parts of South America, the New Year is welcomed by eating grapes. In Greece, on the morning of the 1st of January, Greek families break a pomegranate – which can be found in all Christmas decorations in Greece – hanging on the front door of their house to bring them luck. And children unwrap their Christmas gifts!
In France, the New Year is usually celebrated amongst friends at home, in restaurants, or in the main public squares of the cities. New Year’s Eve is musical because it is above all a dancing party. At midnight, we wish each other Happy New Year with a glass of champagne and we announce our resolutions for the year. Outside, horn concerts and firecrackers bring in the New Year and drive away demons and evil spirits, believed to be more menacing during the night of transition between two years.
In South America
In most of the former Spanish colonies of South America, the New Year is celebrated, like in Spain, by eating twelve grapes on the twelve strokes of midnight. It is said that those who manage to keep the rhythm of the chimes will live the New Year with good luck. In Brazil, beaches are the place for festive gatherings: in Rio, two million Brazilians and tourists,
all dressed in white, converge towards the Copacabana beach to admire fireworks and throw roses and gladioli towards the sea so that their wishes of peace, love and money are granted.
In the Land of the Tsars
The Russians celebrate the New Year twice: on the 1st of January, according to the Gregorian calendar and on the 13th of January, according to the Julian calendar of the Orthodox Church. On the 31st of December, Russians gather around an Olivier salad composed of diced vegetables, eggs, and mayonnaise. As soon as the twelve strokes of midnight resound, it is customary to write a vow on a paper, burn it, and to throw it into a glass of champagne.
New Year’s throughout the year!
Many countries don’t celebrate the New Year on the 1st of January because they don’t follow the Gregorian Calendar. The Israelis celebrate it in September or October, and the Chinese celebrate the New Year in January or February. The Iranians celebrate the arrival of Spring on the 21st of March. Laos, Thailand and Burma celebrate their new year during the Songkran Festival (water festival) in April.