The Weird and Wacky New Year’s Traditions Around the World

Counting down the final ten seconds of 31 December ends in screams of ‘Happy New Year!’ on the first few seconds of the 1 January. Hooters, whistles, car horns fill the air while fireworks light up the skies adding their explosive exuberance to the cacophony of celebration.

So much for what many countries have in common for New Year festivities. What of their own unique and peculiar traditions?

From East to West

Beginning in the East with Japan, the kansho or temple bell is struck 108 times following the Buddhist belief of ‘ringing out’ passion and delusion.

The number 108 is arrived at by multiplying the six senses (including consciousness), three experiences of good, bad and neutral, two forms of attachment and non-attachment, and three for the past, present and future, making 6x3x2x3 for 108.

This tradition in a sense wraps the globe having been introduced to Hawaii by Japanese immigrants. In effect it is one of the first traditions carried out on New Year’s Day beginning in Japan and one of the last, ending in Hawaii nineteen hours behind Tokyo.

Good fortune for the coming year is one of the major themes. In the Philippines this is reflected in everything round like coins. While the noise at midnight scares away evil spirits, sporting a polka dot shirt can attract money, especially if you have a round grape in your mouth as the clock strikes twelve. Eating twelve round fruits for each month of the coming year also invites good financial luck.

Russia has a whopping eleven time zones stretching from the East where Uelen (twelve hours ahead of GMT) and its near-neighbour Wales in the USA (ten hours behind GMT) are divided by a mere 100-km stretch of water, the International Date Line and a twenty-two-hour time difference.

In Siberia there is a tradition of jumping into frozen lakes carrying tree trunks. However, another Russian custom of drinking a glass of champagne before the strike of twelve appears much more civilised. At least, it seems so until you learn that the champagne is laced with the ashes of a page on which you have written your new year’s wish.

Food First and Furniture Gone

Food of course plays an important part in all celebrations. Spain’s tradition of eating a grape for each strike of midnight seems tame in comparison with Estonia’s seven, nine or twelve meals on new year’s day to ensure abundance in the coming year.

Scotland and parts of Ireland practise first-footing when people visit soon after midnight to be the first across the threshold bearing the gifts of bread, beer and coal to bring good cheer and good luck. Variations include making sure a dark-haired person crosses the enters first, as a fair-haired person may bring bad luck.

Throwing things out of windows is part of the new year tradition in Johannesburg, South Africa, and on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.

For anyone in Puerto Rico the worst that can happen is a good drenching as evil spirits are driven away by people throwing out buckets of water. However, in the Hillbrow district of Johannesburg an old fridge or sofa might land someone in hospital as the old furniture goes out of the window with the arrival of the new year.

Latin American Luck

Some Latin American countries share a common underwear theme for new year. In Bolivia wearing your underpants back to front is for good luck, while in Chile, Mexico and other countries the colour of underwear will attract romance (red), health (blue), prosperity (yellow).

Inhabitants in the Chilean town of Talca head for the cemetery to see in the new year with their dead relatives. The first time it happened they had to climb over the gates. Now the mayor orders the gates be kept open throughout the night.

Peru perhaps has the strangest and most dangerous tradition of all. In the village of Takanakuy people ‘clean the slate’ for new year by settling their disputes with bare fists during the Fighting Festival – women included.

Regardless of how you celebrate new year in your patch of the globe, we at DCODE wish you all the best of luck, health and wealth for 2019. Happy New Year!


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