15 ways New Year's Eve traditions are celebrated around the world

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
As the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, people worldwide participate in festive traditions to ring in the new year with their friends, family, and loved ones. These traditions can vary depending on where you celebrate the New Year. Some NYE traditions involve food, like in the southern United States, where some families cook black-eyed peas and collard greens. Others may involve specific activities, such as in South Africa, where some people throw old furniture out of the windows.
Some traditions are shared among people of different cultures. However, others may only be done in specific regions or countries, each with its own history and meaning. To celebrate the new year, consider learning more about New Year’s Eve traditions, especially if you travel during New Year's, have friends from different cultures, or are curious about how the New Year is celebrated in different places.
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New Year’s Traditions: 18 New Year’s Eve celebrations from around the world

New Year’s Eve traditions can be exciting for people across the globe. Below are some of the most common, organized by country of origin. 

USA: Watching the ball drop in Times Square

Every year, millions of people watch broadcasts and live streams, while thousands more gather in New York City for one of the most popular New Year's Eve celebrations. As the clock ticks closer to midnight, individuals anticipate the moment of the Ball Drop, which marks the start of the arrival of New Year’s Day. Standing in Times Square, people from all around the globe watch various musical performances and count down the final seconds together, often sharing a midnight kiss or embrace when the ball finally drops. The Times Square Ball Drop started in 1907 and is one of the most televised events in the USA. It is not just a local tradition but one that many global New Year's Eve celebrations model after.

Spain: Eating grapes at midnight

In Spain, as the New Year approaches, some people participate in traditions that are considered good luck. At midnight, they eat 12 grapes, each signifying the 12 clock chimes. This practice is thought to bring good fortune for each month of the coming year. Tables of families and friends gather with grapes in hand to complete the challenge. However, participants must consume all 12 grapes before the last chime stops. 

Denmark: Breaking plates on friends' doorsteps

In Denmark, one common New Year's Eve tradition involves breaking plates on friends' doorsteps. This tradition is considered an act of well-wishing for friends and family as the New Year arrives, as it is believed to banish bad spirits. It's part of Danish customs to collect chipped or unusable plates throughout the year to prepare for the event. As midnight comes closer, individuals travel through neighborhoods, throwing these plates at the front doors of those they care for.

Brazil: Jumping over seven waves

In Brazil, the start of the New Year may be celebrated with a special seaside tradition. Some Brazilians dress in white as a sign of good luck and peace and go to the beach to jump over seven waves. Each leap represents a wish for the upcoming year and can be a fun activity that symbolizes hope and renewal. The act is traced back to Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion, which combines a mix of cultural beliefs about the sea's spiritual power. Some individuals may offer flowers to Lemanjá, the goddess of the seas, for blessings in the New Year. 

Switzerland: Ringing the bells

While you may be familiar with setting off fireworks as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s, Switzerland, a country that is home to many Christian churches, takes a different approach. In both villages and cities, it’s traditional for the church bells to start ringing just before midnight, with many people going outside or opening their windows to listen. 

Philippines: Wearing polka dots and eating round fruits

In the Philippines, people participate in various customs believed to bring prosperity in the coming months. In one standard practice, the custom is for people to wear polka dots. The circular shape represents coins and wealth, believed to signify a year filled with financial stability. Preparing a fruit basket with twelve different round fruits, such as grapes, oranges, and melons, is also customary. The round fruits act as both a nutritious snack and a moment of reflection on the past year.

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Scotland: First-footing after midnight

You may have heard of Auld Lang Syne, a song traditionally sung in Scotland as the year ends, and the “hot pint,” a whiskey-based drink served on New Year’s Day. Another of Scotland’s most common New Year's Eve traditions is the practice of first footing. At the stroke of midnight, the tradition starts with the entrance of the first person into the home—a first-footer. This visitor, ideally a dark-haired male, comes with gifts that can set the tone for the year's luck. Having dark hair was seen as a positive sign, likely originating from a time when a blond stranger arriving might have been a Viking invader. 

Ireland: Banging bread against the walls

A common New Year’s Eve tradition in Ireland is to “bread the walls” to banish bad luck and ensure a year of plentiful food. Traditionally, this involves family members beating the walls of their own home with a cake or Christmas bread while reciting a prayer. This is meant to symbolize prosperity, good health, and protection.

Japan: Ringing bells 108 times

In Japan, the New Year's Eve tradition, Joya no Kane, involves striking temple bells 108 times as midnight approaches. This ritual is a symbolic way to get rid of 108 earthly temptations or evil spirits that, according to Buddhist beliefs, cause human suffering. Temples nationwide participate in this ceremony, often attracting locals and visitors to collect lucky charms and experience the ringing that is said to purify the soul for the coming year.

Ecuador: Burning scarecrow effigies

In Ecuador, people build and burn scarecrows that signify the past year. Ecuadorians start by constructing scarecrow-like figures with old clothes, paper, wood, or other materials. As the clock strikes midnight, Ecuadorians come together and set the scarecrows on fire. This activity is meant to symbolize the end of the past year, with the figures often resembling disliked public figures or the past year’s events.

South Africa: Throwing furniture out of windows

One common New Year's Eve custom in South Africa is tossing furniture from windows. Johannesburg's Hillbrow district is particularly known for this unconventional New Year’s tradition. The act symbolizes discarding old, unwanted items from the past year, making room for new opportunities and a fresh start. However, it's not a chaotic free-for-all; the police have outlined safety and legal concerns while providing increased monitoring during the festivities.

Italy: Tossing old items out of windows

Like South Africa, Italy also literally casts off the old to make room for the new. Italians might dispose of old items by throwing them out of windows. This act symbolizes saying goodbye to negative experiences and making resolutions for the coming year. While not as commonly practiced as it once was, the tradition remains in some areas. It's especially done in southern parts of Italy, where anything from pots and pans to clothes may find its way onto the streets.

Germany: Pouring lead to predict the future

One of the most common classic New Year's traditions in Germany is Bleigießen. It involves pouring molten metal to forecast the coming year's fortunes. While historically lead was used, today, safer materials like tin or wax are used instead because of health concerns. People may melt these metals in a spoon over a flame and quickly pour them into cold water. The solidified metal forms random shapes, which people interpret in different ways to predict future events. Commonly seen shapes and their meanings include, for example, a ship for travel, a ball for good fortune, and a tree for growth.

Chile: Sleeping in the cemetery to be with deceased loved ones

In Talca, Chile, residents gather in local graveyards on the last night of the year. However, their New Year’s Eve traditions are not considered sad or negative occasions. Instead, people sleep in these graveyards to welcome the New Year with their departed loved ones. Families gather at the gravesites, often with food and drinks, to stay overnight right beside the graves of family members. Some people reflect quietly, while others celebrate with loved ones, sharing meals and making toasts to honor those no longer with them. 

Mexico: Eating a grape with each bell strike and making a wish

In Mexico, as the clock nears midnight on New Year's Eve, families and friends prepare a cup or bowl of 12 grapes. With each of the twelve strikes of the clock at midnight, individuals consume one grape for each chime. This custom, known as "Las Doce Uvas de la Suerte," translates to "The Twelve Grapes of Luck," and it's more than a festive activity. As the clock’s bell rings, people make a wish for every grape eaten, which represents each of the 12 months.

Greece: Hanging onions on doors

Hanging onions on doors is one of the New Year's traditions in Greece and is based on symbolism and cultural heritage. The onion represents growth because onions often sprout new green shoots even when unused. Greeks consider it a symbol of fertility and rebirth—qualities they hope to bring into their homes with the start of the New Year. The onion stays in place until January 1st, when some houses might replace it with pomegranate, another fruit that represents abundance and good luck.

Netherlands: Eating desserts for good luck

In many cultures, eating round foods or ring-shaped foods is a common way to commemorate the end of the old year. In the Netherlands, it’s traditional to eat oliebollen, a dessert similar to a doughnut made of fried dough. The tradition, which started as a way to protect oneself from evil spirits during Yule, continues to this day, and oliebollen are now a staple New Year’s food for many Dutch people.
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Colombia: Carrying empty suitcases for a year of travel

One New Year's Eve tradition in Colombia involves residents walking around the block with empty suitcases. By doing so, Colombians believe the year ahead will be filled with travel and new adventures. Though it may seem unconventional, this custom represents hope for the future and potentially exploring new places. It has become a way for some people to have a positive attitude about the upcoming year. 

Takeaway

If you’re ringing in the New Year with loved ones, you may find it interesting to discover how traditions are carried out across the world. You might also become inspired to incorporate one of these customs into your own New Year's Eve celebration.
From eating 12 grapes at midnight to jumping in the ocean, these traditions signify the beliefs and cultures of different people that are often tied to similar intentions. The many NYE traditions celebrated worldwide help unite people to promote hope and prosperity.
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