New Year’s Eve is often a time of reflection and making plans and resolutions for the future. It’s also a way to bid farewell to the year and to welcome what lies ahead, which – let’s face it – after a tumultuous 2020, is something we’re all looking forward to right now.
While partying and watching elaborate fireworks displays are a no-go this year, that doesn’t mean the festivities have to be any less meaningful. In fact, some countries have unique ways of celebrating that doesn’t require a large crowd. Here are five that ring in each year in their own special ways.
New Year’s – known as shogatsu or oshogatsu – is a big holiday period for Japanese families and most businesses are closed from 1 to 3 January. Each new year is a chance to be “out with the old and in with the new”. They believe it’s a time for a fresh start and bonenkai or drinking parties that will rid one of the old year’s worries. They even have a special dish: Toshikoshi Soba – literally “year-crossing buckwheat noodle” – that should be eaten before midnight. It’s also a tradition to visit a shrine or temple and be there when the bells are rung at midnight. In addition, people gather on mountaintops, beaches or anywhere with a good view for Hatsuhinode, the Japanese name for the welcoming of the first sunrise of the New Year.
Many Danes eat at home with their families on New Year’s Eve and gather in front of the TV at 6pm to tune in to Queen Margrethe’s New Year’s speech before toasting with champagne and heading out to party with friends or having them over. In Copenhagen, the Town Hall Square is a popular spot to hear the clock tower chime as one year ends and another begins. And don’t be surprised if you see people jumping off chairs as the clock strikes midnight. This Danish ritual is meant to bring good luck as they “leap” into the new year.
The Spanish have a unique way of seeing in the new year – they eat 12 green grapes! The tradition involves eating a grape with each chime or bell strike at midnight. If you manage to finish them all in time, you’ll have a prosperous year ahead with happiness as well as good health and peace. Spaniards also usually celebrate on the eve in costumes, complete with wigs and masks. Other traditions include ringing in the new year in red underwear if your resolution is to fall in love, and dropping a gold object – usually gold rings or coins – into a glass of cava before the midnight toast for good fortune.
Filipinos believe that anything round signifies prosperity, so this is the preferred print to wear to welcome the new year and the shape to have around the home (coins and round fruits). Before midnight, all doors, windows, cupboards and drawers are opened to usher in good luck. And, when the clock strikes 12, everyone makes a lot of noise with firecrackers, the clanging of pots and pans, and tooting of car horns to scare away negative energy. Then they sit down to Media Noche, a lavish feast symbolising their wish for an abundant year ahead.
Both men and women wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve so they’ll have good luck in the coming year, and even better luck with fertility. In some parts of the country – especially in the south – old items such as crockery and clothes are thrown out of the windows to drive out bad omens and any unhappiness, and the Christmas log is set on fire to drive out negative elements. The traditional Italian New Year’s Eve meal consists of lentils, which symbolise wealth and good fortune, as well as pig’s trotters or pork sausages for abundance and grapes to ensure everyone at the table will spend their money wisely.
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A version of this article was first published on 14 December 2019.