10 New Year's Eve traditions to try this year

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated January 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are two of the most popular global holidays, both offering people the opportunity to come together and welcome a new year filled with peace, hope, and good fortune. If you don’t have any existing New Year’s eve traditions or are looking for new ideas for the upcoming year, see some classic new year's traditions below and how you might incorporate them into your own year’s tradition.

The benefits of New Year’s Eve traditions

According to the American Psychological Association tradition is “a set of social customs or ethnic or family practices handed down from generation to generation.” Traditions are habits you partake in on a schedule, such as every holiday. However, even if you haven’t had any traditions passed down to you, you can create your own.

Research suggests that practicing traditions can actually be beneficial for mental health, since they can be grounding, connective, and offer a sense of purpose. Even if you don’t have cultural or family traditions to turn to, crafting some using your imagination and discussing them with friends or other loved ones can be a positive practice.

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10 New Year’s Eve traditions and New Year’s traditions to try 

While numerous traditions that represent good luck have been passed down for generations through many cultures, new ones can be started by anyone at any time. If you’re looking for a tradition to practice this New Year’s Eve, you might consider taking inspiration from the following list of New Year’s tradition options.

1. Clean your home before midnight 

Find your first footing in the new year with a clean, fresh start to your living space. Research suggests that the visual clutter associated with a disorganized living space can overwhelm our brains, potentially leading to decreased working memory, feelings or symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, sleep problems, and even overeating.

Tidying and organizing your home before midnight can be a powerful way to start the new year with a clean slate and a renewed sense of energy, potentially setting you up for a prosperous year. It may also motivate you to stick to a habit of tidiness throughout the year to further benefit your mental health. Plus, you can get the whole family involved in the cleaning process.

2. Write a letter 

Writing a letter is one way to symbolically end the year and look to the future. You might write a letter to your future self, your past self, or someone else in your life. Below are some potential writing prompts to consider for this New Year’s Eve tradition:

  • Tell a loved one how much they mean to you 

  • Brainstorm personal goals for the new year 

  • Write a letter about what you learned or experienced in the past year and what you hope to do in 2024

  • List out your New Year’s resolutions 

  • Write to God, another deity, or the universe (if you are spiritual or religious) with gratitude or hopes for the new year

  • Write down what you learned in 2023 and what you’d like to leave behind in the old year

  • Write a list of what you’re grateful for at the start of the new year

3. Have a white elephant party

A white elephant party can be a fun way to connect with friends and family members at a New Year’s Eve celebration. To host this type of party at your own home, ask everyone to bring and wrap a gift within a certain budget. Once everyone has arrived, follow these rules to engage in the game:

  1. Have each person draw a number. This is the number of their turns in the gift exchange. 

  2. Have everyone sit in a circle around the gifts. 

  3. The first person picks a gift from the pile and opens it for everyone to see. 

  4. The second person can now pick that unwrapped gift for themselves or choose a new, wrapped gift from the pile and open it. 

  5. From there, each subsequent player can decide to ‘steal’ an opened gift or open a new one. However, a present can only be stolen once per turn no more than three times total.

  6. The game ends when there are no more gifts to steal or when no one wants to steal a gift anymore. 

4. Watch the ball drop 

Each year in Times Square in New York City, a decorative ball is ‘dropped’ and confetti is released over the crowd at the stroke of midnight, after a countdown. Once the ball has dropped, everyone wishes each other a Happy New Year, and the song “Auld Lang Syne” usually plays. The ball drop can be watched live online, in person, or on TV, and doing so with friends and family is a common New Year’s Eve tradition around the US. You can find many photos of those in Times Square celebrating the new year on the Getty Images website.

5. Set New Year’s resolutions 

Setting New Year’s resolutions, or goals that you hope to accomplish over the coming twelve months, has become a common practice and New Year tradition around the world. They often relate to health, relationships, finances, or personal growth. While goals can be set at any time of year, making resolutions at New Year’s may offer an additional sense of motivation and opportunity. Using the S.M.A.R.T. goals framework—which refers to goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound—for your resolutions can help make you more likely to achieve them.

6. Explore cultural New Year’s traditions

If your culture, ethnic background, or religion has specific New Year’s Eve traditions, you might consider adding some of these to your holiday celebrations if they’re not included already. Some relate to food, such as the Spanish tradition of eating one grape for each of the 12 chimes when the clock strikes midnight. In total, each person will eat 12 grapes. Others relate to attire. In one such Filipino tradition, individuals wear polka dots and round shapes to symbolize wholeness and good luck in the year ahead. Many cultural traditions are believed to bring health, luck, and prosperity.

In addition to these traditions, many cultures worldwide observe unique New Year's Eve customs to ward off bad luck and evil spirits. For instance, during the Chinese New Year, homes are cleaned to banish bad spirits, and red decorations are displayed to attract good luck. Families gather for a reunion dinner featuring symbolic dishes like fish for abundance. Foods like collard greens are also frequently eaten to bring good luck and symbolize prosperity. Christian churches may ring their church bells at midnight as well. Some believe it’s important to open the front door and windows at midnight to release the old year and bring in the new.

In Brazil, there's a tradition of jumping over seven waves at midnight in order to bring blessings for each day of the upcoming week. Some people in Latin American cultures believe wearing red underwear on New Year's Eve can attract good luck and love for the coming year. One Mexican tradition is to carry empty suitcases around the house after midnight to bring good travels in the year to come. In some European countries, including Greece, it's a tradition to bake a coin into Christmas bread, symbolizing prosperity for the person who finds it in their slice. Finding the money is thought to bring good fortune. These customs, whether rooted in warding off bad spirits or inviting good fortune, add cultural depth to New Year celebrations worldwide.

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7. Make a New Year’s Eve dinner

Many families and communities celebrate the new year with food. While some may make specific dishes that symbolize hope and prosperity for them in the new year, others may order in or do a pot-luck simply as a way to get together and share a meal with loved ones on the night of New Year’s Eve. Some New Year’s eve traditions suggest that eating round foods, or ring-shaped foods, like bundt cakes and donuts, will bring a full circle of luck in the new year. Coming full circle in this way can be a fun and delicious experience. Other popular food-related traditions say eating hearty greens or black eyed peas on New Year’s eve is considered good luck. Hoppin’ John is a Southern dish that includes some of these ingredients, and drinking a hot pint is a tradition from the UK that is thought to bring good health. Additionally, research has linked regularly sharing food with others to happiness and life satisfaction, and doing so as the calendar switches to a new year can be a powerful way to symbolize connectedness going into 2024.

8. Sing, dance, or create together during New Year’s Eve celebrations

New Year’s Eve celebrations often emphasize happiness, joy, and hope. Art and music can be a way to ignite this energy and connect with other people. Listening to music, crafting lucky charms, singing, and/or dancing together are all popular ways to do this on New Year’s Eve. Studies indicate that singing together in particular may help strengthen social bonds and overall individual well-being, so there may be many potential benefits to celebrating in this way and making your voice heard among others in the group.

9. Kiss a loved one at midnight 

It’s common in many countries to kiss someone at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. It’s usually a romantic partner or connection, but friends and family members also often share a hug and a kiss on the cheek to ring in the new year. Remember to ask for consent before giving someone a midnight kiss.

10. Sign up for therapy

New Year’s resolutions often relate to self-improvement, which is why many people use the new year as an opportunity to pursue methods that may help them along the way—such as therapy. If your schedule for the new year is already looking packed, online therapy might be a more convenient option for seeking this kind of support throughout the next year. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home. Since research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions in many cases, you can generally feel confident in choosing whichever format appeals most to you.

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Takeaway

New Year’s Eve traditions can be a fun way to symbolize the positivity, transformation, and peace often associated with the holiday season. Writing letters, setting resolutions, embracing cultural or religious traditions, and trying new party games are examples of some you might try.
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