New Years Traditions around the World


For us in the United States, we are accustomed to ringing in the New Year by counting down the seconds, watching the ball drop in Times Square, partying, toasting and kissing at midnight. In Central and South America, however, they have different things on their minds on New Year’s Eve, such as the color of their underwear. For example, those who wear red underwear hope for love in the New Year and yellow signifies a wish for prosperity, and white means peace and happiness. Spain and other Spanish speaking countries share a tradition of eating twelve grapes at the stroke of midnight on December 31st making a wish for the New Year for each grape eaten. That is hardly the beginning of all the unusual customs believed to bring good luck on New Year’s Eve around the world.

One custom that is shared in several different cultures is burning symbolic items. In the Netherlands, they set their Christmas trees on fire. In Panama, they have a similar tradition, but instead of trees, they light elaborate figures made to look like celebrities or political figures. These effigies symbolize the old year and lighting them on fire is meant to drive off bad spirits for the beginning of a brand new year. Similarly, people in Ecuador make "ano viejo" dolls or old year dolls, which they burn to symbolically rid the events of the past year.

Several countries share a tradition of breaking bread on New Year’s Eve. In some areas of Italy, a sweet bread or cake like a panetonne or a torciglione is sliced and served to all as a symbol of hope and prosperity. Sweet bread in Mexico, called pan dulce, and in Greece, Vassilopitta or St Basil’s cake, is baked with a coin hidden in the dough. The person who gets the slice with the coin or charm is thought to be blessed with good luck in the New Year.

New Year’s Eve is commonly celebrated around the world with traditions of setting off fireworks, making resolutions, parties and time spent with family and friends. There are also certain common themes among countries like symbolically starting anew. Many clean their houses, pay off debts, mend quarrels, return borrowed objects, self-reflect and make resolutions for the New Year. In some towns in Italy, people clean their houses and throw out old or unused items out the window New Year’s Eve. In Puerto Rico, people roll a coconut around the house and then toss it into the ocean. Then at the stroke of midnight, they throw buckets of water out the window to wash the old year out. People in Denmark jump off chairs at midnight in order to ban all bad luck in the coming year. The Danish also break dishes on their friends’ doors on New Years and the one with the most dishes outside their door proves to have the most friends.

All of these New Year’s customs are full of significance for the future; much like our own American custom of spending the night with the one you love and kissing them at midnight to ensure that the relationship will prosper in the coming year. Many traditions instruct that the rituals should be completed before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to ensure the good luck in the coming year. A British tradition is to avoid sweeping the floor or taking anything out, even trash, on New Year’s Day, or you will throw away all your good luck.

There’s something about the universal act of hanging up a new calendar with its crisp unmarked pages, discarding the old one, shrugging off the old year, and optimistically anticipating a new beginning and a chance to symbolically start over. The New Year signifies a new beginning to all things. No matter what your traditions are we hope that you have a Happy New Year and find yourself in the company of those you love.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.