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Strange New Year’s Traditions Around the World

Happy new year card next to two glasses of champagne and a twirled ribbon.

New Year’s Day is a time when cultures around the world practice a wide variety of time-honored traditions (sometimes strange, but entertaining) to usher in the New Year.

The earliest record of a New Year celebration is thought to have occurred around 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, and was observed around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. January 1st has only been recognized as a holiday by Western nations for approximately 400 years.


Here are some interesting traditions that you can share in your part of the world:

China: Firecrackers are used to chase away the forces of darkness.

Switzerland: In homes, blobs of whipped cream, representing the abundance of the coming year, are dropped on the floors.

Philippines: Before the clock strikes midnight, all doors must be left wide open to allow good luck to enter. This includes cabinets, drawers, cupboards, and windows.

Panama: Effigies of popular celebrities and political figures—called muñecos—are burned on bonfires. The effigies represent the old year; burning them is meant to drive off evil spirits for a clean start for the New Year.

South Africa: In Johannesburg, residents throw old appliances out the windows

Denmark: Residents throw old plates and glasses against the doors of friends’ and relatives’ houses. They also stand on chairs and then jump off them together at midnight. Leaping into January is supposed to banish bad spirits and bring good luck.

Spain and El Salvador: At midnight on New Year’s Eve, people eat 12 grapes—one for good luck in each month of the New Year.

Finland: Casting melted tin into a container of water, and then interpreting the shape the metal takes after hardening is said to foretell the coming year. A heart or ring shape indicates a wedding in the New Year; a ship predicts travel; and the shape of a pig means an abundance of food.

Scotland: During the New Year’s Eve celebration of Hogmanay, the custom of “first-footing” decrees that the first person to cross a home’s threshold in the New Year should carry a gift for luck (whiskey is the favorite).

São Paulo and La Paz: People wear brightly colored underpants to ring in the New Year—red if they’re looking for love, and yellow for money.

Colombia: Residents believe that walking in a circle with a suitcase — either around their home or around the block — will bring travel opportunities in the New Year.

Brazil: Wearing new, white underwear (or dressing entirely in white) while jumping seven waves and/or placing flowers into the ocean is thought to bring good luck and fortune.

Chile: Eating lentils at midnight ensures a prosperous new year.

Mexico: Hanging a wool toy lamb from the front door brings good fortune.

Cuba: Throwing a bucket of water out of a window or door symbolizes renewal.

Ecuador: Hiding money around the house is thought to bring prosperity.


Do you have your own ritual?  Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below!

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