Unique New Year traditions around the world
By Martha Hales
Champagne, fireworks, midnight parties - however you usually celebrate, New Year’s Eve is a big deal. There aren’t many cultures which don’t celebrate the arrival of a new year - it’s an important marker of time passing and renewal across the globe. Among the parties and merriment there are a huge number of traditions out there connected with leaving behind the year just passed and greeting the new. Here’s a quick look at some of the quirkiest and most unusual rituals out there, from wearing colourful undies to taking your suitcase for a walk around the block at midnight. The TravelLocal team wishes you all a happy New Year wherever you celebrate!
New Year's Eve is huge in Russia, a major event in the annual calendar of celebrations and certainly a bigger deal than Christmas (which falls on January 7th in Russia don't forget!), and is marked with big parties, fireworks, lights and festivities. The Russian equivalent of Santa, Ded Moroz - or Grandfather Frost - arrives to give out gifts on New Year's Eve, and many people settle down to a feast which always includes Salad Olivier. If you are lucky enough to be invited to spend new year with a Russian family you will find the table groaning with dishes as the tradition states that to enjoy a prosperous year ahead it must start with plenty. New clothes are also necessary to ensure a fruitful year. Just before midnight, the old ritual states that you should write down your wishes on a scrap of paper, burn it and then sprinkle the ash in your champagne glass to be enjoyed as the clock strikes twelve.
Check out our trusted local partner’s Christmas in Russia tour if you’re keen to experience Russia during this magical time.
Rio is the place to be for a stylish and exuberant New Year's Eve celebration, and the most famous of these takes place at Copacabana beach. There are quite a few traditions surrounding what you might think of as a simple beach party, so here's a quick look at the classic Brazilian New Year experience. Firstly, wear white. The vast majority of revellers will be all in white for the occasion, but may well choose brightly coloured underwear to bring good fortune in the year ahead. Red undies are supposed to bring love, yellow for wealth, green for health, blue for friendship and white for peace and harmony. Family New Year’s celebrations will inevitably involve a meal, and two key ingredients for luck and prosperity include lentils and pomegranates. Many Brazilians also keep a bay leaf in their pocket to bring luck in the year ahead, and those celebrating on the beach can attract more luck, so the theory goes, by jumping seven waves at midnight.
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Ready to burn some scarecrows to greet the New Year? This is the tradition in Ecuador, where effigies of the previous year, or ‘año viejo’ are created to be burnt at midnight as the new year arrives. The scarecrows are usually styled to resemble politicians and sometimes fictional characters, and symbolise the negative aspects of the closing year ready for the new year to begin. This tradition in thought to be more than 200 years old, originating when an outbreak of yellow fever swept through Guayaquil in 1895, leading to the mass burning of clothing to ensure the contagions were destroyed. These days the whole event is much more humorous and tongue in cheek, and some of the scarecrows are really elaborately decorated.
Take a look at our trusted local expert’s recommended Ecuador itineraries for travel inspiration.
In Japanese Buddhist teachings, there are 108 evil passions which befall human beings, and in order to cleanse these at the close of the year Buddhist temples across Japan chime their bells 108 times. Traditionally, the ritual of 'Joya No Kane’ bell ringing should include 107 chimes before midnight, and the final chime should fall in the new year. One of the best places to hear the 108 chimes of Buddhist tradition in Japan is at the Watched Night Bell in Tokyo, where you can go at midnight to join in the celebrations intended to banish all human sins. Before the days of instant communication the Japanese would send distant relatives a postcard on New Year to update them on the year just passed, so post offices are snowed under at New Year as the tradition continues today.
Experience Japan with our trusted local expert’s Classic Japan tour.
In a far flung corner of Peru, the village of Santo Tomàs is the venue for one of the most unusual New Year traditions - the Takanakuy Festival, where locals calm any resentments and settle unresolved conflicts by fighting it out in front of a cheering crowd. Although celebrated on 25th December, this is another cleansing ritual intended to wave goodbye to the struggles of the previous year and welcome the new with a clean slate. The name Takanakuy is the Quechua word for ‘the blood boils’ and the whole festival has ancient roots thought to date back to the colonial era. As well as the honour fighting, there are processions and dances to herald the new year, too.
For Peru trip inspiration, take a look at our trusted local expert’s suggested itineraries.
Apart from the longstanding tradition of crazy firework antics on New Year’s Eve, the Philippines is home to lots of other celebratory rituals. It is thought to be good luck to dress in polka dots, as anything circular represents coins and prosperity. This tradition continues to the New Year’s feast which takes place at midnight and should include as many round foods and fruits as possible. Before the festivities begin, Filipino families will ensure that their food and drink containers are full - the rice container is particularly symbolic - because the traditional superstition states that if you begin the year with abundant supplies you will enjoy plentiful food and drink all year long.
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The cradle of Christianity is also located in the world’s oldest wine-producing region, so it’s clear that Armenia has millennia of history and traditions to draw upon. The pomegranate is symbolically important to Armenians, and can be found woven through various strands of national heritage, from architecture to textiles and even appears on centuries old religious manuscripts. Today, one tradition that takes place at New Year is the blessing of pomegranates in the Armenian church. These blessed pomegranates can be taken to the faithful who haven’t been able to attend a New Year church service, or eaten by the congregation as part of their New Year’s celebrations at home.
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There are several New Year’s traditions in Colombia, some of which are observed all over Latin America, such as wearing colourful underwear on New Year’s Eve to enhance your chances of romance (red), prosperity (yellow), or well-being (green). Yellow is the favourite in Colombia, and the undies must be brand new or the lucky charm won’t take effect! Colombians also follow the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes at midnight - one for each strike of the bell - and making a wish for each grape. However, our personal favourite Colombian New Year tradition is the one which is supposed to guarantee a year of interesting travels: Take your suitcase on a quick trot around the block at midnight to be sure your year will be full of travel adventures… where will you end up in 2020?
Explore Colombia with our trusted local expert’s Classic Colombia tour.
Make it happen
So, whether you would prefer to see in the New Year jumping seven waves in Rio or enjoying Salad Olivier in Moscow, we hope you have a good one! And here’s to an exciting and adventurous 2020. Click on the links above to find out more about these destinations or send us an enquiry for our local expert's to get to work on your bespoke itinerary! To speak someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.