Ask an International Etiquette Expert: Name 10 Unique Global New Year Traditions

12/21/2016 06:48 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2016
Unsplash Annie Spratt

From slamming doors and smashing plates, to eating soja noodles and midnight meals, people worldwide welcome the New Year with spectacular gusto! Countries celebrate with traditional customs. These 10 are just a few of the many unique ways to usher in a new year:

In Brazil, venture into the ocean at midnight to jump over seven waves to honor Lamanjá, the Goddess of the Sea. Lamanja is the protector of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. Believers honor this powerful deity by throwing offerings of rice and jewelry into the sea. They jump over seven waves with hope the goddess blesses them with new opportunities and prosperity in 2017.

In Denmark, collect dishes year long to toss at doors on New Year’s Day! The Danish believe that the more broken plates shattered at one’s door, the more friends in the new year. They also stand on chairs and jump from them at the stroke of midnight.

New Year’s Day in Ecuador is celebrated with a tradition known as los años viejos, or “the old years.” Towns and cities across the country construct scarecrows made of cloth, paper, old clothes, sawdust, and straw representing 2016 icons to burn in the streets. This tradition represents forgetting the old year in hopes the new year will bring fortune and happiness.

In Germany, it’s traditional to drop molten lead in cold water and predict one’s future based upon the shape the lead forms! Each shape symbolizes various life aspects, like love, career, family, and prosperity. Families and friends enjoy a midnight meal to welcome the new year together.

In Greece, New Year’s Day also falls on St. Basil’s Day. Many people bake special bread with a coin inside, and serve the first slice to God, the second to the head of the house, and the rest to family. Whoever receives the slice with the coin is blessed with good fortune! Children leave their shoes for St. Basil (beloved for his kindness) to fill with presents.

New Year’s Day is a very special day in Japan, people stay up all night. Families prepare by cleaning homes, decorating doors with pine representing longevity, a bamboo stalk symbolizing prosperity, and a plum blossom symbolizing nobility. It’s traditional to eat soba noodles or toshikoshi soba for dinner, and wish for a life as long as the noodles being enjoyed. Before midnight strikes, temples nationwide will ring bells 108 times to purify all of the 108 Defilements of Buddhism.

In the Philippines, families share a midnight meal known as Media Noche. Children jump as high as they can to grow taller in the New Year. Many people wear polka-dots to symbolize wealth and prosperity.

In Scotland, New Year’s Day is known as Hogmanay and accompanied by lively celebrations including festivals in Edinburgh, luminescent firework displays, and street football games known as ‘Ba Game.’ One of the most famous traditions is “first footing,” where a dark-haired, tall fellow is the first to enter the house after midnight, bearing gifts of food or coal for all.

In Spain, it is considered good luck to eat a grape at every clock toll of the on New Year’s Day, one for each month of the year. Others enjoy a bowl of lentils, representing coins believed to bring prosperity.

In Wales, when the clock strikes midnight, the home’s back door is opened and then slammed shut in order to release all bad luck. As the twelfth toll sounds, the family reopens the door to usher in the New Year’s good fortune.

Traditions, like cultures, vary vastly worldwide. These 10 customs may differ in practice, but each is rooted in the hope and joy of a new year. When the clock strikes midnight, people worldwide rejoice in the presence of friends and family as they greet the new year.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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