New Year Celebrations Around the World

New Year Celebrations Around the World


By Rachel Webb

All around the world people celebrate the coming of a new year and time with traditions from their country. Although the celebrations are not always held on the same day, they often include traditions of religious celebrations, costume parties, parades and with customs said to bring good luck and fortune in the new year.

Teaching our children to respect the traditions of other cultures is a fun way to help accept those that are different. Learning how other religions and counties believe can be a positive step to combating prejudice as well.


In South America "Ano Viejo" is celebrated by creating a fake person or dummy. The scarecrow looking person will be completely dressed and stuffed with old newspapers and firecrackers. The dummy is usually placed outside the home. He represents something that happened during the last year. At midnight each family lights the dummy on fire. As the dummy goes up in smoke the firecrackers also go off to add to the festivities. The old year is forgotten and the new year begins.

Our family decided to use this idea in our own American celebrations. We found that we did not always have old clothing we wanted to burn so instead we burn our old Christmas tree at midnight!


Lasting 13 days, "No Ruz" (pronounced no ROOZ) begins in March because spring begins in March. People plant miniature container gardens and receive new clothing to eat a special meal of eggs and pilaf. This meal is believed to bring them good luck. Friends go visiting and bring gifts of fruit, flowers and colored eggs. They gather together to watch for special things to happen at midnight. For example, the eggs are put on a mirror to see if they shake. The belief is that the New Year starts when the eggs begin to shake. People kiss each other and say "May you live for a hundred years". Iranians also study from the Koran, their holy book and worship God.

On the last day of the celebrations known as "Sizbah Bi Dar" people take picnics to the country where they throw the garden containers into a stream or water to signify throwing away their bad luck.


In India, the Hindus have a New Year celebration four times a year to welcome each of the four seasons. Diwali is one of the New Year festivals held at the beginning of autumn. They believe that the Hindu goddess of good luck visits homes that are brightly lit. Children make "dipas" which are small clay lamps to light and bring the good luck goddess to their home so they can receive new clothes and toys. One family may have many thousand of these little lights decorating their home.

The first day of Diwali is also a New Year of Business" all companies pay of debts and their cars are decorated with flowers and palm leaves to bless the vehicles to run well in the new year.


The Jews have two New Year celebrations. One for the country and one for the Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah which is usually held in September. It lasts one or two days beginning at sundown on one day and ending at sundown as well. People recite a blessing called "Kiddush" over wine and egg bread called "callah". The callah is shaped like a crown to symbolize that God is in heaven, it is also smooth to bring hope for a smooth new year.

Worshipping at the synagogue a ram's horn or "shofar" is blown to remind people to think about their past year of sins and pray for forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of 10 days of prayer and worship that leads into Yom Kippur where they worship god and pray to become better people in the new year.


Known as "Tet" for short, the Vietnam New Year also changes the date that it is celebrated. The Vietnamese people believe that they live with different gods in their homes that keep track of their deeds as well as protecting the family. Before Tet begins they give presents to their gods so that when they leave for heaven to give their report on the people the gods will look favorable upon them. They send off their gods with a fireworks display.

The celebrations last for 3 days in which time the Vietnamese people light candles to honor their deceased relatives which they believe return during Tet. Everyone must remain happy during Tet to ward off bad luck in the upcoming new year.


The Chinese new year and the Vietnamese "Tet" traditions are very similar. In Chinese culture, Tsao-Chun is the name of their Kitchen God who also travels to heaven to report of their deeds. Homes are cleaned spotless and decorated appease the Kitchen God. On New Years Day gifts are exchanged and some homes make a "money tree" which is decorated with old coins and paper flowers. The third day of celebrations, the Lion Dance begins and continues until the fifth day. Men dress in lion costumes and dance in a parade. Dancers climb on top of each other to form a human ladder to reach "lucky money" that is tied in high places.

The Dragon Dance is also held on the third day of the New Year. Paper-mache dragon heads are made with long fabric bodies. It takes several men to maneuver the dragon through the streets. Families open their doors to let the dragon bring luck into their homes. The color red is a lucky color and can be found prominently throughout the celebrations. Firecrackers are thought to scare away the evil spirit Shan-sau so the celebrations are very noisy with people shouting and drums beating too.

The Chinese also believe believe that each year was named after one of twelve animals. Each animal has different habits, strengths and weaknesses. The year you were born tells you which animal you resemble according to Buddha.


In Greece, St. Basil fills the children's shoes with presents at midnight.


It is a good sign to find your door heaped with a pile of broken dishes at New Years. Old dishes are saved year around to throw them at the homes where their friends live on New Years Eve. Many broken dishes were a symbol that you have many friends!


People in Japan spend weeks planning for their New Year celebrations. They buy special food and make decorations for their front door out of pine branches, bamboo and ropes that are believed to bring health and long life. Fan ropes are also hung over the doors and roofs with seaweed or ferns to bring them happiness and good luck. Children receive "otoshidamas" which are small gifts with money inside. They also send New Year cards to their friends and hold forgetting-year parties to say goodbye to the old year. They also forgive friends and family for any misunderstandings and disagreements they may have had that year so they can make a clean start of the new year. On December 31st bells are rung 108 times to chase away 108 troubles. They people all laugh after the gongs because laughter will drive away the bad spirits. With all the bad spirits gone and troubles and enemies forgiven, they enjoy a day of celebration.


As you can see many countries have traditions that they believe will bring good luck for the new year. In Puerto Rico children enjoy throwing pails of water out the window at midnight. Some believe that this rids their home of any evil spirits!

In Spain when the clock strikes midnight the people eat 12 grapes. One grape for every stroke of the clock to represent each month in the year. Each grape is said to bring good luck in the new year.

Switzerland believes good luck comes from letting a drop of cream land on the floor New Years Day. While in France people eat a stack of pancakes for luck and good health. Belgium farmers wish their animals a Happy New Year for blessings.

Armenian women cook a special bread for their family. The bread is kneaded with luck and good wishes pressed into the dough before it is cooked.

In Northern Portugal children go caroling from home to home and are given treats and coins. They sing old songs or "Janeiro's" which is said to bring good luck.

Romanians had a tradition of listening to hear if the farm animals talked on New Years Day. If the animals talked it was considered bad luck so they are relived when they do not hear any talking animals.

In Bolivia families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes to bring good luck.


New years is celebrated in many countries with a parade. After spending many months creating colorful costumes the Junkanoo parade is held in the Bahaman's where thousands of people celebrate in the New Years Festival. Prizes are given to the best costumes, be it most strange or perhaps the most beautiful.

In Nepal there is a four day parade during the New Year celebration and in Greece people carry figures of apples, ships and stars. In Syria and Lebanon children parade door to door as well.

Thailand's parade is led by an honored woman and people march to the beat of drums and gongs. Dragons, elephants, buffalos and giants are popular parade costumes there.

In Oberammergau, West Germany, the parade is very long and the parade leader carries a tall pole with a star on the top. He sings songs about the past year and dance to a band.

In the United States New Years Day has parades as well. What once may have been started with people decorating their horse drawn carriages to travel to special sporting events has now turned into huge parades in the morning and special football games held in the afternoon. One of the most famous parades is the Tournament of Roses where the floats are all decorated with flowers.


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