10 Surprising New Year’s Traditions Around the World

By Rachael Funk

For many North Americans, New Year's Eve means champagne parties, kissing at midnight, fireworks, and watching the ball drop in Times Square. No matter where you live, the start of the year is often greeted with ceremony and tradition. Here are some ways you could ring in the New Year around the world!

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Denmark: Smash a plate

A popular custom in Denmark is to smash plates against the front door of your friends and neighbors. More broken plates signify more luck in the New Year (and more affection from your friends), so if you’re really popular, you may want to leave the house with closed toed shoes and a broom in hand. A less messy Danish tradition is to leap off a chair at midnight to signify jumping into the New Year.

South Africa, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Italy: Throw things out the window

In South Africa - Johannesburg and Hillsboro specifically - old furniture is chucked out the window and onto the street. In Puerto Rico and Cuba, you can throw a bucket of water out the window to signify renewal and drive away evil spirits. In southern Italy, you may see crockery or sundry items flying from balconies.

Peru: Get into a fist fight

An indigenous tradition in Peru is called “Takanakuy,” which is a Quechua word for “to hit each other.” The annual festival is usually held on December 25th and includes dancing and fighting. Participants pair off, wrap their hands and exchange a hug, then the fighting begins. The tradition is said to settle disputes so everyone can start the New Year with a clean slate, but often people will join in just for the sport.

Chile: Camp in a graveyard

Locals in Talca, Chile may opt for a sleepover with their departed loved ones on New Year’s Eve. The tradition is rumored to have begun when a family broke into a graveyard to spend the occasion near their departed father, but the idea caught on and now the town’s mayor opens the graveyard after a late-night mass. With a large turnout and thousands of burning candles, it is said this custom brings peace and sometimes luck.

Ireland: Beat the walls with bread

To chase away bad luck and evil spirits, an Irish tradition is to hit the walls of your house with a loaf of bread.

Siberia: Plant a tree underwater

Some professional divers in Siberia have a tradition of cutting a hole through the ice of Lake Baikal and carrying a tree to the bottom. While not a widely held practice, it’s definitely unique!

Latin America: Walk your suitcase around the block

Many Latin American countries including Chile, Colombia, and Mexico say that taking your suitcase around the block at midnight will ensure travel in the coming year.

Everywhere: Burn stuff

A pyromaniac’s dream, many countries have New Year’s Eve traditions of setting things on fire. From Latin America to the Mediterranean, a custom of burning effigies from the old year is said to cleanse and bring good luck. An added bonus in Paraguay and Colombia is that the effigies must be set aflame with fireworks!

In Russia, people prepare for midnight with a scrap of paper, something to write with, and a glass full of something to drink. When the countdown begins, you write down a wish, burn the paper with a lit candle, then drink the ashes. If you can drain your entire glass, your wish will come true.

New Year’s Eve in Scotland is called “Hogmanay” and part of the celebration is to create balls from paper and wire and set them ablaze while swinging them around and marching down the street.

Everywhere: Wear bright underwear

A very popular tradition around the world is to correlate the color of your underwear to your hope for the New Year. Orange underwear in Brazil provides a year of success. Red underwear in China will fight off bad luck in the coming year. In Argentina, pink underwear will provide romance, while in Bolivia, pink will protect the strength of your friendships (if you want to double your luck in Bolivia, wear your pink undies backward!). Roundness means prosperity in the Philippines, so opt for polka dots. White underwear in Puerto Rico will aid fertility and good health. Bright colored underpants signify good things for the New Year, but whatever you do, don’t wear black!

Romania: Throw on a bear skin and dance in the street

An old tradition that is gaining popularity in Romania is to wear a real bearskin and dance to pan flutes and drums. Practiced in the eastern region of Moldova, this is performed between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to ward off evil spirits. Accompanied by singing “bear tamers,” the ritual symbolizes the death and rebirth of time.

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