New Year’s Eve Around the World

Today is New Year’s Eve. Typically, the first thoughts that come to mind are champagne, fireworks, and plastic top hats. Oh, and Auld Lang Syne. And Dick Clark, rest in peace.

New Year’s Eve is celebrated all over the place, and each country has its own unique ways of celebrating. I stumbled across a list of countries and their traditions, and thought it would be fun to share. Rather than listing every single country (ain’t nobody got time for that), I’m just giving you some random, interesting ones.

Obviously, the United States is first on the list. The big daddy celebration of them all is the “ball drop” in New York City’s Times Square. I attended this event with friends on NYE 2006. We weren’t planning on going for several reasons, namely because you have to get there really early in the morning to get a good spot, it was really cold, there is no alcohol allowed, and there are no public restrooms. All of those things combined sound like a day of NOT FUN to me. But later in the evening, closer to 11 p.m., we decided to go check it out. We were about 20 blocks away from the ball, which we all watched in anticipation. All of a sudden, fireworks were exploding over the nearby river and the crowd was cheering and yelling and carrying on. But the ball was still in place….oh, that’s right. Because our group, as well as hundreds of people around us, were all watching a time and temperature ball on top of a random NYC building. Live and learn, I guess.

In case you want to face the New Year armed with some trivia, the ball weighs nearly 12,000 pounds and is made of Waterford crystal. The Ball Drop has been held since 1907, and in recent years has had about one million spectators annually. Atlanta has a “Peach Drop” and Bartlesville hosts an “Olive Drop.” It’s the thing to do.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally the busiest day of the year at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, where the parks stay open late and the usual nightly fireworks are supplemented by an additional New Year’s Eve-specific show at midnight.

Don’t forget to eat your black-eyed peas on January 1 to ensure good luck throughout the year. There are a few ideas behind this, like dried beans resemble coins, so you’ll get wealthy. The saying goes, “Eat poor on New Year’s, eat fat the rest of the year.” Apparently the notion is that only poor people eat black-eyed peas. Back in Civil War times, the Northern Army thought the beans were only good enough for the animals to eat. I like black-eyed peas, personally, so I have no problem eating them on January 1, or any other time. In the South, it’s common to eat them with cornbread and greens (uck!), the greens also symbolizing money in the new year.

Our Mexican neighbors to the south celebrate the holiday with grapes. They eat a grape each time the clock chimes during the midnight countdown, and make a wish with each one. I think this is something you’d definitely have to think about in advance. That’s a lot of wishes to come up with on the spot. It’s also popular to bake a loaf of sweet bread and hide a charm or coin in the dough, similar to the Mardi Gras King Cake tradition. The recipient of the lucky slice will have good luck in the New Year. Another fun tradition is to make a list of all the bad things that happened to you in the year, then toss it into the fire just before midnight. It’s typical to celebrate with a late night meal before heading out to the night clubs. Turkey is the popular dinner choice.

I also stumbled across a disturbing Mexican trend: make a dummy that represents the old year, and set fire to it. It’s not the tradition that is haunting, so much as this photo that I found by mistake:

New Year traditions and celebrations in Canada vary regionally. New Year’s Eve is primarily a social holiday up north. In many cities, such as Toronto and Niagara Falls in Ontario, there are large celebrations which may feature concerts, late-night partying, sporting events, and fireworks, with free public transit service during peak party times in most major cities. In some areas, such as in rural Quebec, people ice fish and drink alcoholic beverages with their friends until the early hours of January 1. I’m not sure how the rural method varies much from their normal routine. 

In Belgium, on January 1, children read their “New Year’s letter” and give holiday greeting cards of decorated paper featuring golden cherubs and angels, colored roses and ribbon-tied garlands to parents and godparents, on decorated paper. This sounds like an excuse to give belated Christmas cards.

Belgian farmers also wish their animals a happy New Year. Okay….

Germany is another country where it’s popular to drink too much and watch fireworks. Berlin hosts one of the largest NYE celebrations in all of Europe, with about one million people attending the event.

Bleigießen (pouring lead) is another German New Year’s Eve custom, which involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by molten lead dropped into cold water. Other auspicious actions are to touch a chimney sweep or have him rub some ash on your forehead for good luck and health. Jam-filled doughnuts with and without liquor fillings are eaten. Finally a tiny marzipan pig is consumed for more good luck.

Yet another German tradition is the making of Speckdicken – people go door to door visiting their neighbors and partaking in this dish. It looks similar to a pancake, but the recipe calls for either dark molasses or dark syrup, with summer sausage and bacon in the center. Interesting combo, no?

Greece has some interesting traditions. During the day, kids go around singing New Year’s carols for money. I was not aware that there are New Year’s carols, other than Auld Lang Syne. Then again, I’m not Greek. In the evening, people cook a “Bill’s pie,” which is actually an almond-flavored cake. Similar to the Mexican way, they put a coin inside. The person who gets the coin is the lucky person of the day. When midnight comes, everyone turns off the lights, closes their eyes, and counts down. At the stroke of 12, everyone reopens their eyes to “enter the year with a new light.” There are then fireworks, then the eating of Bill’s pie. I do like the symbolism of entering the year with a new light.

Last on the list, because this is getting pretty long, is Italy. The common NYE ritual for Italians is wearing red underwear. According to, this dates back to medieval times, when men would drape a red cloth over the “family jewels” to protect them from witches who would patrol the streets at midnight, casting spells and making mischief. And to give the gift of red underwear? Well, that’s just the kindest thing you can do for a loved one. Everyone partakes in this tradition, from the very old to the very young.

Another ancient tradition (rarely followed today) was disposing of old or unused items by dropping them from the window.

The popular choices for dinner are zampone or cotechino, which is a meal made with pig’s trotters or entrails, and lentils. At 8:30 pm, the President reads a television message of greetings to Italians.

At midnight, fireworks are displayed all across the country. A lentil stew is eaten when bell tolls midnight, one spoonful per bell. This is supposed to bring good fortune; the round lentils represent coins.

From all of us here at, have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve. Here’s to an exciting and adventurous 2020!



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