The coming of the New Year is a very special period for all cultures around the world. It is a time to find peace with the past and to set hopes for the future.
While no two traditions are exactly the same, there is a common lining in all – getting the family or community together; anticipating new beginnings; seeking purification, good luck and fortune.
We handpicked 7 of the most interesting and sometimes controversial New Year’s Eve traditions for you. Enjoy!
In Ecuador, families commence the New Year with a symbolic burning of “the bad” from the previous 12 months. For the purpose, families, friends and whole communities gather together, on December 31st. They bring cloth or paper dolls of politicians, pop culture figures and other public icons of the past year.
At midnight, they burn the dolls, along with old photographs and a list of all of their faults throughout the past year. All this in the name of good fortune for the coming year!
If people want some extra luck, they start jumping over the flames – one time for each month. While the chances of increasing your luck this way are still unknown, there is a pretty good probability that you may end up in the fire. So be careful if you plan on having some New Year fun in Ecuador!
In Japan, celebrating the New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December is the second most important holiday throughout the year. It is known by the locals as Omisoka and represents the start of a new beginning.
Traditionally Japanese families gather together for a late dinner that starts around 11pm. To bring a lot of luck in the coming year, all attending family members must be happy and smiling.
In many homes you could see a cast bell symbolizing the human desires, which are considered to be the cause of all suffering. Ringing the bell exactly 108 times on New Year’s Eve is believed to bring cleanness of the mind and spirit.
At midnight, the whole family pays a visit to a well known holy place or temple to observe the traditional holy ceremonies.
In Thailand the New Year is celebrated during the Songkran festival, taking place from the 12th to the 16th of April. Songkran means ‘shift’ or ‘movement’ in Sanskrit. The holiday is also known as The Water Festival which purpose is to “wash over” the misfortunes and sins of the past year and welcome the new one with a fresh start.
Celebrating Songkran starts with visiting temples in the mornings, offering food to monks and pouring water filled with jasmine petals on Buddha statues, and in the hands of the elderly.
Songkran is also seen as a festival that unites friends and families. A lot of people who live abroad come back home to be with their loved ones.
After giving their respect to the elders and the holy spirits, Thai people continue celebration on the streets. Major streets are closed for traffic and are transformed into a water fighting arena.
If you plan to wash away your sins in preparation for the New Year, visit Тhailand in April and get yourself a colorful water pistol or at least a good size bucket!
Chileans celebrate New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December with a solid festive family dinner, followed by parties all night with friends. The rituals for good luck and fortune are taken very seriously by the locals, even if you may find them a bit weird.
For example, if you want your next year to be filled with travels and adventures, it would be completely normal in Chile to walk around the block with a suitcase on New Year’s Eve. It would also help if you are wearing a yellow underwear for more luck.
If you are hoping to make more money next year, simply put some bills or coins in your shoe. To double your chances – eat at least a spoon of lentils.
One of the newest Chilean traditions is to spend the New Year’s Eve sleeping at the cemetery with the loved ones you lost. It all started about 15 years ago when a Chilean family jumped over the cemetery fence to spend the New Year’s Eve, at least once again, with their recently deceased father. Apparently this appealed to a lot other people who now created a new tradition around it as a reminder how valuable life is.
Finnish people seem to have a thing about predicting the future in the coming new year.
One of the most emblematic traditions is fin casting. Everyone gets a miniature cast in the shape of a horseshoe, which is believed to be a symbol of good luck. The horseshoe is melted and the liquid hot tin is poured into a bucket with cold water, so that it may harden in a new irregular shape. The resulting cast shapes are carefully examined, looking to find similarity with certain objects. Each different shape has its own meaning that could be promising good luck, health or prosperity, but it could also be a sign of an illness, sorrow and challenges ahead.
Another popular way for “glimpsing the future” in Finland on New Year’s Eve is to place various small objects under cups or plates turned upside down. Each object has a special meaning, like love, happiness, wealth, sorrow, pain, or even death. People choose a cup to find out what will be out there for them next year.
Things get a little crazier for girls looking for the love of their lives. If you are a single girl and you wonder if you’d find your soulmate next year just go to Finland on New Years Eve and ask a pig…If the pig makes a sound that’s a solid YES.
You can go even further and try to see what your future husband will look like. All you need to do is to stare at the mirror in a dark room, only lit by a candle. Your hubby will supposedly stare back at you in the mirror.
If this sounds too creepy, you can simply wet your scarf in the water where the tin was cast and then put it under your pillow. Husband face should appear in the dream!
Bulgarians also celebrate on the 31st of December. The New Year’s Eve is seen as another opportunity after Christmas to reunite with the family and close friends. It all starts with an abundant dinner and drinks.
One thing that could be seen on every table is the Banitza – a special type of homemade bread with а lot of cheese, eggs and butter inside. Banitza is a traditional pastry in Bulgaria throughout the year, but what makes it special on New Year’s Eve is that is filled with dogwood lucky charms.
The host would make the banitza and make sure there will be one piece for each guest, plus one extra piece. The host is also responsible for preparing the lucky charms. For the purpose, h/she needs to find dogwood branch and cut it into smaller pieces, each with different shape and number of buds. Each piece is then carefully outlined on a piece of paper and is named for health, abundance, new car, baby etc. Finally, all pieces are put inside the banitza before it is baked – one charm in each piece.
When ready, the banitza is placed in the middle of the table and everyone gets the piece in front them. The extra piece is put aside for Mother Merry. You need to be careful not to “eat your luck” and to take it out in one piece, so that you can find its shape and meaning on the sheet of paper.
Another important aspect of celebrating New Year is an old Bulgarian ritual, performed by children, that is meant to bring health and abundance to the elderly people in the family for the entire new year. Each child in the household need to create a special “tool” in a specific shape, made from dogwood branches, called Survachka.
Dogwood is the first tree to flower in Spring, it is also one of the hardest woods. This is why it has been a symbol of health, endurance and prosperity in Bulgarian traditions for a long time. The Survachka, is decorated with colored wool, dried fruits, nuts or popcorn. Once it is ready, each child goes to each of the elders and starts “beating” them on the back with the Survachka, while also saying out loud a special, short poem for health and abundance.
For the Scots, New Year’s celebration is called Hogmanay and it extends to the 2nd of January. Legend says it that the first person who steps inside your home in scotland after midnight on the 31st of December, will determine your luck for the rest of the year. This tradition is called “first-footing” and can really get you nervous, especially if you have relatives and friends with not so desirable present or past.
Something a lot more spectacular and also dangerous is the swinging fireball tradition. If you want to be part of a massive fire show, you can head over to the Stoneheaven Fireball festival and observe the locals walking through the village swinging homemade fireballs, accompanied by pipes and wild drumming. All this in the name of burning bad spirits away for a clean start of the new year!
What’s your favorite tradition so far? Comment below which one you liked most and if you know about any other interesting cultural celebrations of New Year’s Eve.
Wherever you decide to be this New Year, don’t forget your iCard digital wallet! If you missed giving a gift to someone important, it is still not too late to make him or her happy with an e-GiftCard. Check our guide for some creative ideas for gift-giving.