Countdown to the New Year: 12 Strange But True Traditions

Locations in this article:  Berlin, Germany Madrid, Spain Mexico City, Mexico Nassau, Bahamas Paris, France Tokyo, Japan

fireworks.jpgOn New Year’s Eve, my grandmother used to force us to eat deviled eggs, claiming that in Germanic tradition eggs fostered good luck and health for the upcoming year. I don’t know if that is a true story, but I do know that I eat deviled eggs at my New Year’s Eve parties every year—just in case she was right.

And so, various cultures ring in the New Year with rituals that may seem a little kooky to outsiders, but are steeped in tradition. Here are 12 (one for each strike of the clock counting down till midnight) traditions that match up with pretty cool places to go and celebrate the New Year.

1. In some parts of Denmark, housewives save up old dishes all year long and throw them at other people’s doors on New Year’s Eve. Some might find this offensive, but in Denmark, having a pile of broken crockery at your doorstep on January 1 means you have lots of friends! In Copenhagen, after some rousing plate breaking, locals head to the Royal Palace at Amalienborg Square for fireworks and to see the Royal Guard parade in their bright red gala uniforms.

2. Forget about spring cleaning. In Puerto Rico, locals scrub out the interiors of their homes and decorate the outside with streamers, balloons and lights at the new year. Many also throw a bucket of water out the window to symbolize washing away the old year (look out below)! Meanwhile, visitors to San Juan can celebrate the New Year with an outdoor party in the old city.

fireworks-eiffel-tower.jpg 3. In France, New Year’s Eve is known as la Saint-Sylvestre and is celebrated with a late-night feast called le reveillon de Saint-Sylvestre. The meal can consist of several dishes, but chances are you’ll be feasting on pancakes—washed down with champagne, of course. When in Paris, if you can handle massive crowds, head over to the Eiffel Tower to catch the end of the two-day New Year’s parade, which features thousands of singers, dancers and entertainers.

4. In Spain, New Years Eve is synonymous with grapes. When the clock strikes midnight, Spaniards eat a grape for each chime. This tradition dates back to the early 1900s and is thought to have been a gimmick to reduce a grape surplus. And if you’re in Madrid, expect to stay out clubbing into the wee hours of the morning (plan ahead to get yourself on the guest list or you’ll be stuck on the wrong side of the velvet rope).

junkanoo.jpg 5. Celebrate island-style in the Bahamas with the famous Junkanoo parade, which is held twice during the holiday season: December 26 and January 1. On New Year’s Day, Nassau’s Bay Street is filled with bright costumes, rhythmic beats, and joyous dancing as thousands gather for the Bahamas’ biggest parade (and party) of the year.

6. Burning effigies isn’t always a good sign, but in Ecuador, this New Year’s Eve tradition is a celebration. The idea is that you can welcome in the New Year by ridding yourself of the past. In Quito and beyond, locals will gather up their chosen effigies—usually a representation of a famous person or event from the last year—douse them with gasoline, and at the stroke of midnight, the city streets and beaches are alight with thousands of burning figures.

7. Long before December 31 in Japan, locals gear up to welcome in the New Year. They send one another celebratory cards, clean and deck out their homes, and dine on traditional New Year’s cuisine known as osechi-ryori. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times. Each ring represents the release of the elements of bonno—the Buddhist concept of mortal passions or desires. Japan’s version of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve is known as Red and White Song Battle, a 50-year-old tradition in which famous pop stars go head-to-head in a singing battle. In Tokyo, head out after the show for the all-night party scene.

8. Make sure to bring colorful underwear when you head to Mexico. On New Year’s Eve,  people wishing to find love wear red underwear and those seeking fortune wear yellow. Make sure to put on other clothes too, then head out to the zocalo (the main square) in Mexico City for a giant street party. Restaurants stay open for the traditional New Year’s late-night dining scene.

9. Finally, a place where wearing polka dots is not only accepted, but encouraged! Wearing clothes with circular patterns is believed to attract money and future to those in the Philippines. Continuing with the theme, most households try to serve circular fruits. Display your knowledge of the traditions at the notable party held at the Plaza Sulayman of Baywalk in Manila, which has performances by Filipino celebrities and its own fireworks display.

10. Spend your New Year’s Eve doing something for the greater good in Turkey. The Turkish people believe that participating in community service or organizing fundraising events on New Year’s Eve will bring the promise of a fulfilled year. Of course, after doing good for the community during the day, Ankara, the second largest city in Turkey, throws a huge party in Kizilay Square which includes traditional dancing, pop music, and a laser light show.

11. Now here’s an odd one. In Germany, New Year’s Eve is called Silvester (named after a fourth-century pope and saint). Since 1972, every New Year’s Eve has been marked by the showing of the classic British television program, Dinner for One. The program is so popular that the punch line, “same procedure every year,” is now a German catch phrase. But beyond that rather tame event, the Germans know how to party. The spectacular fireworks at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate attract more than a million people each year.

taipei-101.jpg12. Head east to Taiwan and see fireworks shooting from the world’s tallest building! This began in 2004, so it is a young tradition, but a tradition nonetheless. In Taipei, people gather around the Taipei 101 building, the tallest building in the world and count down the ten seconds before midnight on New Year’s Eve. With each number counted down, an entire layer of the building (eight floors equal one layer) lights up. At zero, fireworks shoot out from the top of each layer and light up the sky. Afterwards, stay out all night partying with the locals.

Whether or not any of these traditions make sense or actually bring you good luck for the New Year, it can’t hurt to cover your bases! Happy New Year and happy new tradition(s)!

By Courtney Crowder for

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