Ushering in the New Year used to be simple. Friends had the same dates and kept the same customs. Today, however, people operate in the midst of several calendars, they’re increasingly conscious that it’s celebrated in myriad ways, and as a result, encounter many different New Year traditions. Therefore, in the spirit of an increasingly interconnected world, it’s time to take a look at some of the most interesting New Year celebrations around the world.
China: Legend has it that Buddha summoned all the animals of the earth before he departed, but only twelve came. He rewarded the diligent beasts by naming a year of the Chinese lunar cycle after each. New Year falls on 8th February in 2016 is taken very seriously in China. It’s the longest public holiday of the year, with many people taking over a week off work. During this period offerings are made to household deities; new clothes, often in red, are worn; large banquets for friends and family are held; children receive gifts in red envelopes; and huge lion and dragon parades, featuring gongs, cymbals and acrobatics, march down the main streets of villages, towns and cities.
Thailand: New Year doesn’t occur until 13th April in Thailand, and it’s marked by what essentially amounts to a three-day water fight. Huge water-spraying statues of Buddha star in the parades and people delight in releasing fish back into rivers – mainly to get on the good side of karma.
Japan: For the Japanese, New Year is synonymous with what Europeans might call a ‘spring clean’. It’s all part of the process involved in welcoming in Toshigami, the god of New Year. When midnight strikes, the Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times. Each peal is supposed to represent the banishment of the 108 mental states that lead people astray.
Russia: Russia and several other Orthodox countries such as Serbia and Ukraine don’t celebrate New Year until 14th January. This is because although the Soviet government shifted the country on to the Gregorian calendar (the 1st January is still officially the public holiday), the Orthodox Church stayed on the Julian alternative, and this is still observed by the majority of the population.
Finland: One of the more unusual New Year celebrations around the world, Finns melt tin in a little pan before tossing it into a bucket of cold water. The blob that emerges is analysed intensely for signs of the year to come. Few take it seriously nowadays but it’s always a fun bit of history to indulge.
Greece: In Greece, they sing New Year carols and scoff Vassilopita (King’s Pie), an almond cake with a coin hidden inside. The lights go off at midnight and when they are switched back on again the cake is devoured. Whoever manages to nab the metal without breaking their teeth in the process is considered ‘blessed’ for the year.
Scotland: In Scotland, New Year goes by the name of ‘Hogmanay’. One of their customs, called ‘first-footing’, is to visit friends and family the minute midnight strikes, laden with whisky, shortbread, salt, blackbun (a version of fruit cake) and coal. This is supposed to bring good luck for the coming year.
Portugal: The Portuguese make a dozen wishes to the twelve chimes of midnight while simultaneously consuming twelve raisins to commemorate the passing of each of the twelve months of the year. The traditional Portuguese New Year dish is Bolo-Rei (King cake); it contains a single fava bean (playing a similar role to the coin in other countries), and is made from a top-secret recipe.
Ecuador: This characterful part of Latin America has its men don drag on New Year’s Eve. Calling themselves ‘widows’, they solicit car-driving strangers with dance routines and request money for their efforts. And that’s not all. Large effigies resembling celebrities or politicians are stuffed with all the things their creators dislike and burned at midnight. The bravest souls then leap through the fire twelve times in order to have a dozen wishes granted.
Mexico: Portugal’s twelve raisins are replaced with grapes in Mexico, each eaten on the chime. The Mexicans also take the opportunity to do some home decorating to reflect their desires for the year to come. The unemployed pick yellow for wealth, those that dream of love go for red, and white is for those wishing for better health.
United States of America: One of the more traditional New Year celebrations around the world, New Yorkers like to celebrate by lowering a crystal ball weighing over 5,000 kilograms down a 43-metre pole in 60 seconds. This has been an annual event since 1907.
Inspired by these unusual New Year celebrations? Why not join Insight Vacations on a Jewels of the Aegean, American Heartland or Treasures of the Incas itinerary in 2016, and experience some of these fascinating cultures for yourself.