Unique New Year traditions all over the world

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People welcome the New Year in many ways. Activities are usually done to symbolize two things: scare away bad luck (to start fresh), or attract good luck and abundance. For example, many people set off fireworks (to scare bad things away) and big feasts and parties (to attract abundance).

Let’s learn about some unique New Year traditions around the world:

Canada’s Polar Bear Swim

This is held every year in Ontario (Toronto), Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba (Steinbach), and some cities in the US. Participants jump into an icy lake usually on New Year’s day (some cities prefer other dates). They do this to as a form of cleansing to start the year right. However, this activity is not recommended for people with heart problems.

The event is now also a fundraising activity where people can pledge donations for a good cause. It began in 1920 when Peter Pantages and his friends jumped in the English Bay in Vancouver on New Year’s Day.

Spain and Portugal’s 12 grapes

People in Spain and Portugal eat 12 grapes for good luck. They start eating when the clock strikes midnight on New year’s Eve. The challenge is to finish eating the 12 grapes in one minute. Each grape represents each month of the year.

Siberia’s planting of the New Year’s Tree

Brave divers jump into a frozen lake in Siberia and plant a tree! They plant the yolka (fir) or Siberian New Year Tree underwater. This bone-chilling activity (done sometimes minus the planting of a tree) symbolizes new beginnings or starting over.

The Philippines makes some noise

Filipinos welcome the year with loud noises to drive bad spirits and bad luck away. They use noisemakers, horns, loud music, and firecrackers to make noise. They start at the stroke of midnight on New Year. This tradition was influenced by the Chinese.

Filipinos also serve round foods on New Year’s eve and wear polka dotted clothes to attract wealth and prosperity. Round or circular objects symbolize money.

China and Italy sees red

The Chinese celebrate New Year in February. For the Chinese, red is the luckiest colour. They paint their doors red and wear red on this day. They also give away small red envelopes with money. This is done to spread good luck. Meanwhile, Italians wear red underwear to be lucky in love in the coming year.

Brazil and the goddess of the sea

Brazilians wear white on New Year’s Eve to attract peace and happiness. Some go to the beach to offer white flowers to the goddess of the sea. White means purity. The flower offerings are done to bring prosperity for the coming year.

Scotland’s Hogmanay festival

Scotland’s Hogmanay lasts for several days. It is a fire festival. Experts in Stonehaven swing balls of fire over their heads and then toss them into the sea. This is done before midnight. They do this to purify people and scare off evil spirits.

Denmark’s smashed plates

The more broken plates you have on your doorstep, the better luck you’ll have in the coming year if you’re in Denmark. People go around and shatter dishes and plates on their friends and loved ones’ doors on December 31st. It is their way of wishing others well.

Japan rings in good luck

Bells are rung 108 times at Buddhist temples in Japan on New Year’s Eve. The number represents worldly sins and desires based on their religion. They are removing sins and bringing in good luck by ringing the bells.
What’s your New Year tradition in your home country?

May the New Year bring you joy, happiness and a positive outlook for the coming year!

Happy New Year! Kunghei fatchoy! Feliz Ano Nuevo! Manigong Bagong Taon! с новым годом! Akemashite omedeto gozaimatsu! Godt nytar!
Article updated November 28, 2023.

Sources: How people celebrate New year’s eve in 20 countries around the world, Joanna Fantozzi; 8 New Year traditions from around the world, CBC kids; and Polar bear dips: Canada’s bravest ring in the new year with an icy swim, Jessica Vomiero, Global News; Retrieved December 13, 2018. With thanks to sandra.arbeau@edmontonpolice.ca for additional edits.

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