New Year’s Traditions Around the World: Food, Fun, and Luck

From fireworks to hanging onions, people across the world have a variety of ways to ring in the New Year. Those traditions aren’t limited to New Year’s Eve on December 31 and New Year’s Day on January 1.

New Year’s traditions around the world also include Chinese Lunar New Year and Jewish New Year, which both occur later in the calendar year.

Find out more about New Year’s Eve traditions around the world in this article. Consider picking a new tradition to try to bring good fortune to the coming year.

New Year's Traditions - Happy New Year!

1. Eat Exactly 12 Grapes for Good Luck

In Spain and some Spanish-speaking nations in Latin America, many people eat 12 grapes as the clock flips from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day.

A grape for each month of the year, you eat one at a time as the clock chimes 12 times at midnight. Or, eat one at a time in the 12 seconds before the stroke of midnight.

It’s a practice that’s believed to foster good fortune in the New Year. But to get the good luck, you’re supposed to think about the significance of each grape and the month ahead in the year.

Stories are varied on how this tradition started. Some believe Spanish grape farmers came up with it in the 1900s to sell more grapes, and others believe it was a French custom adopted and made unique by people in Madrid.

2. Wear White to Jump Seven Waves

Brazil’s eclectic cultural and religious history intertwines every December 31 as revelers wearing white gather on the nation’s beaches.

People in Rio enthusiastically celebrate this tradition. Large numbers of people come to the shore on New Year’s Eve to throw white flowers to the waves and view fireworks displays over the sea.

When the New Year arrives, people wade into the ocean and jump seven waves each. With every jump, each person makes a wish for the upcoming year. The tradition is seen as a way to help bring good luck to the year ahead.

Brazilian tradition and culture are complex and full of history. The same can be said of the nation’s food. Discover some traditional Brazilian dishes that aren’t common outside of the country.

3. Carry an Empty Suitcase

In Colombia, many people partake in a series of traditions to herald luck for the New Year, including eating 12 grapes. According to Erica Dinho, a Colombian food blogger, you’re supposed to make a wish for every grape you eat.

Erica notes that some Colombians pour champagne over their body to help foster prosperity for the upcoming year. Those who hope their year filled with adventure or travel may run around the block while holding an empty suitcase.

4. Make and Eat Hoppin’ John for Dinner

Hoppin’ John is a recipe from the southern United States that’s commonly made and eaten on New Year’s Day. Its main ingredient is black-eyed peas, which are considered to be good luck on New Year’s Day.

Many people have black-eyed peas in some form for this reason and eat them along with greens, which are considered to help support wealth in the upcoming year.

Hoppin’ John also includes rice and some types of meat, typically a variety of pork like ham or bacon. Many people also consider eating pork to be good luck on the first day of the year.

5. A Dark-Haired Male First Through the Door

New Year’s, or Hogmanay, is a pretty big deal in Scotland. Historically, it was the major winter holiday for many in the area, as celebrating Christmas was banned for almost 400 years. Over the years, people developed a wide variety of traditions for December 31, and one of them is known as first footing.

First footing refers to the first feet to cross the threshold of a home once the New Year begins. Scottish tradition holds that it’s lucky for the first person through the front door to be a dark-haired male. The man should also carry with his specific items: a black bun, shortbread, coal, salt, and some whisky.

Hundreds of years ago, Scotland was often invaded by the Vikings—typically light-haired. Some people believe first footing calls for a dark-haired male because Scottish ancestors during Viking times would have been wary of light-haired strangers, who might be raiders.

6. Red Envelopes Filled With Money

New Year's Traditions - red envelopes

Red envelopes are a tradition associated with Chinese New Year. This is a celebration dated on the lunar calendar, so it begins around the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Lunar calendar.

The special red envelopes, or hongbao, contain money and are given to loved ones—usually children. The tradition occurs in China as well as countries that have Chinese heritage such as Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

Red is a symbol of good wishes and prosperity. The origins of this practice appear in a variety of ancient Chinese stories about the New Year, and there are rules for how you should give and receive envelopes.

The envelopes should only contain new, clean, and crisp bills, for example. When giving an envelope, you need to hand it over and receive it with both hands. You’re also not supposed to open the envelope when you’re still with the person who gave it to you.

Gift-giving traditions are different all across the globe. Find out about holiday gift-giving traditions that occur throughout the calendar year for various cultures.

7. Throw Dishes at Doorways

In Times Square in New York City, the ball drops. Across the Atlantic, it’s glass or dishes that drop!

Dutch and German New Year’s traditions have people throwing dishes against doors, breaking them as a way to bring good fortune. You’re supposed to throw dishes at the doors of friends and family. More broken shards at your door mean more luck for the year for people in Denmark.

8. Bang Pots and Pans

Banging pots and pans to make noises is a tradition that crosses a variety of cultures and locations. In fact, it’s a tradition that might have led to the noisemakers and other items many people purchase to help ring in the New Year.

One reason for the tradition may have been a belief that making loud noises can scare away evil or unlucky spirits from the past year. By making noise, you could help protect the upcoming year.

9. Burn Effigies to Cleanse Bad Energy

Burning effigies is another New Year’s tradition that occurs in a variety of countries, including Ecuador. People make effigies of all types of figures, including politicians and celebrities. Then they burn them at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Many people believe the tradition began in 1895 when there was a yellow fever epidemic in the region. The clothing of those who died was stuffed into coffins, which were burned, in part to burn away the disease.

The symbol of purification stuck. It became a tradition of burning effigies to cleanse away bad things from the previous year before the new one begins with a fresh start.

10. Turn Molten Metal Into Random Shapes

A Finnish custom involves casting random shapes from tin and using the shapes to forecast what might happen in the New Year. The casting is done on New Year’s Eve.

People heat up tin until it’s molten and dump it into cold water so that it forms a random shape. Shapes like rings might indicate marriage, but the practice leaves plenty to the imagination.

11. Throw Water out of the Window

In Puerto Rico, you can also find people eating 12 grapes for luck and prosperity in the next year. But Puerto Rican tradition also includes throwing a bucket of water out of the window to ward off evil spirits and sprinkling sugar outside for good luck.

12. Wear Certain Colored Underwear

The color of your underthings plays a role in New Year’s traditions in a variety of countries. Many people in Colombia don yellow underwear in hopes of prosperity for the new year.

In Brazil, it’s popular to wear a special pair of underwear for good luck, with many people believing red to be the best hue. Both men and women in Italy often wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve to ward off negative thoughts and evil spirits.

13. Eat Fruits Dipped in Honey

The Jewish New Year is another celebration that doesn’t take place on December 31 or January 1.

Known as Rosh Hashanah, the celebration begins on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. The exact date on the modern 12-month calendar varies, but the Jewish New Year occurs during the final weeks of summer or in fall.

The festival comes with a lot of traditions, one of which is eating apples or other fruits dipped in honey. It’s considered good luck, as apples were historically seen as a healing fruit and honey signified prosperity or hope.

Interested in learning more about major celebrations across the globe? Learn more about Diwali, India’s biggest holiday, and how some celebrate it in the United States.

14. Hang Onions on the Door

In Greek tradition, onions are a symbol of regeneration or rebirth, due in part to the onion plant’s hardy nature and ability to regrow itself. The onion was so highly regarded that people started to hang them in their homes on New Year’s Day as a symbol of new prosperity and good luck for the new year.

Many people in Greece go to church services on New Year’s Day as part of a ritual to start the year off on good footing. After going to church, people hang onions in their doorways or elsewhere in the home.

Check out what Greek people eat during New Year and how to make these dishes by yourself.

15. Slurp Soba Noodles

New Year's Traditions - soba noodles

People in Japan often eat soba noodles on New Year’s Eve. The tradition calls specifically for Toshikoshi soba noodles, which are made with buckwheat and are long and thin.

The noodles break easily, so eating them is symbolic of breaking free of the old year so you can enter the New Year appropriately. Because they’re long, they also symbolize a long life.

The tradition is practical for many people, too. It’s common to participate in celebrations or services at shrines or temples at midnight. When people return home, they like to eat the easy-to-prepare noodles as a snack.

16. Light Firecrackers or View Fireworks Displays on the New Year

New Years Traditions - fireworks

This tradition is seen in a variety of cultures and across numerous types of New Year’s celebrations. Remember banging pots and pans and how New Year’s noisemaking probably comes from old beliefs about warding off evil spirits and bad luck?

The same is probably true of firecrackers and fireworks displays. Today, you can find this tradition playing out at almost any scale. Kids may throw poppers to the ground in neighborhoods to make noises, and cities put on spectacular fireworks displays as the clock strikes midnight 24 times across the globe.

In fact, if you’re watching TV or online anytime on New Year’s Eve, you can probably catch a fireworks show from somewhere in the world!

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