At midnight on December 31st, the champagne corks will pop, the fireworks will fizz and people around the UK will cross arms to sing “Auld Lang Syne” with their friends and family. But by the time it gets to the UK, 2023 will already have been welcomed in by several other time zones around the world, each with their own way of bringing in the New Year. So travel with us around the time zones from East to West to find out about the New Year’s Eve traditions and celebrations around the world.
Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati
Oceania is the first place in the world that welcomes in the New Year. When we in the UK are sipping our morning tea at 10 am GMT, the small Pacific Island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati are the first countries to begin the celebrations. However, these are not usually the same as the huge events seen in other countries. In Tonga for example, most people will celebrate quietly with friends and family by going to church at sunset and midnight to give thanks and sing. This usually begins one week of prayer to usher in the New Year.
Australia and Japan
The celebrations in Sydney are usually reported on the British news as Australia kicks off the New Year with extravagant firework displays, with the spectacular Sydney Opera House as the backdrop. Of course, in the southern hemisphere, New Year arrives in the summer, so many Australians head to the beaches too. In Japan, people eat warm noodles, a tradition that dates back to the Kamakura period when Buddhist monks gave noodles to the poor.
Russia and India
As the world spins on its axis, parts of Russia join in the festivities and decorate a spruce tree near the world’s largest freshwater lake, named Lake Baikal. But the tree is not on the side of the lake, but usually 100 feet below the surface and it is done by two divers names Father Frost and Ice Maiden.
In the Punjab region of India, New Year is also a time of festivities. Since India is a diverse land made up of different states, some follow the solar calendar and some the lunar calendar, resulting in different festivals and celebrations at this time of the year, but they all involve sharing meals and time with family and friends.
Greece and South Africa
If you are celebrating New Year in Greece this year, make sure you bring your onions! Not only are onions considered an essential kitchen item in Greece, but it’s also tradition to hang one outside your door after returning from church on New Year’s Day. They are believed to symbolise growth and fertility for the coming year due to their ability to resprout.
And in South Africa, the tradition of throwing old furniture out of house windows has largely now been replaced by parties, food and fireworks, much to the relief of passing pedestrians!
Denmark and Spain
It seems that throwing things is catching on for New Year’s Eve elsewhere though, as in Denmark, it is thought that throwing old plates at your loved ones’ front door on New Year’s Eve will bring them good luck, and the more broken pieces of crockery you have on your doorstep the better!
The Spanish have a more nutritious start to their year by eating 12 grapes, symbolising each strike of the midnight clock. The tradition began in the late 1800s and many people believed it would ward off evil and bring them good luck – but they have to eat all the grapes before the last stroke of 12!
The UK and Ireland
In the UK, Scotland is well-known for its Hogmanay celebrations and the tradition of ‘First Footing’ is still strong in that country and the north of the UK today. It stems from the Gaelic practice of “qualtagh” where an individual can bring good luck to a house by bringing gifts and being the first to cross the threshold after midnight on New Year’s Eve heralding in New Year’s Day. Gifts that are traditionally offered include a coin (for wealth), bread (for food), salt (for flavour) and coal (for warmth and good cheer).
In Ireland though, if you want to ward off evil spirits and allow in a prosperous and healthy New Year, they recommend banging loaves of Christmas bread against the walls and doors of their home.
Brazil and Greenland
Since Brazil is in the height of its summer in December, many people celebrate New Year’s Eve there on the beach, and immediately after midnight, people are supposed to jump through seven waves whilst making seven wishes, one for each wave. This tradition is for paying your respects and homage to the goddess, Yemanja, who is the goddess of water and people are encouraged to wear white, representing purity or throw white flowers into the ocean.
In contrast, Greenland experience a polar darkness at this time of year so don’t get any sunlight at this time, so they light up the sky with impressive firework displays.
Canada and the US
Canada and the US are the last people across the world to celebrate the New Year due to their position on the globe but they do so in style. In Canada, ice fishing is a favourite pastime, despite sub zero temperatures with many Canadians renting heated huts and cooking equipment to share their catch with their family.
In the US, thousands of people gather at the base of the Times Square clock to watch the ‘ball drop’ down the specially designed flagpole of number 1 Times Square at the stroke of midnight. It takes one minute to descend, heralding in the New Year in a tradition that dates back to 1907 when the owner of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs, created the event to draw attention to their new headquarters. Although relatively ‘new’ compared to many traditions we’ve discussed above, it’s been an annual spectacle and one of the most popular New Year’s Eve celebrations ever since.
The last places to see in the New Year are Baker Island and Howland Island which are small coral atolls forming part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands. Both are uninhabited except for some visiting sea birds – but THEY keep the secret of how they celebrate the New Year, very close to their feathered chests!