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New Year’s Traditions Around the World

We’re getting close to a new decade (on the Gregorian calendar, at least), and around the world, people are preparing to celebrate the start of the new ‘20s with New Year’s traditions that run donning colored underwear to setting cars on fire.

While we’re drinking champagne, giving midnight kisses, and watching the ball drop in New York City, here are some of the things others around the world will be doing to ring in the start of the new decade.


As in many places around the world, Chileans celebrate the new year with feasts and fireworks. But they’ve also got a number of unique traditions intended to bring prosperity. For example, it’s common to eat three spoonfuls of lentils: one for love, one for health, and another for wealth. Speaking of wealth, many Chileans will also place a luca (1000 peso note) in their right shoe, hoping for it to multiply in the year to come. As in much of South America, yellow underwear is worn to represent vibrance, renewed energy, and – some believe – to bring romance in the new year. If you’re a tourist, a surplus of Chileans walking around with suitcases might have you thinking that everyone’s been taking advantage of December 31st travel deals. Most are not on the way to the airport, though. Instead, they’re likely just taking a lap around the block. Doing it with a suitcase is said to increase travel in the forthcoming year. Finally, some Chileans eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes midnight, one for each chime of the bell. The grapes are said to represent the months of the year, with the sourness or sweetness of each one an indication of how that month will go!


In Greece, January first is both New Year’s Day and Saint Basil’s Day. In celebration of Saint Basil’s, a special cake called vasilopita is baked with a coin inside of it that’s meant to bring good luck to the person who finds it. One slice of the cake is cut for Jesus, another for ‘the house,’ and sometimes others are cut for family members who are not present.

On the island of Chios, fishermen carry model ships crafted by islanders to the seaside, singing traditional songs as they walk. In fact, New Year’s singing can be heard throughout Greece, where groups of caroling children pay visits to nearby homes. It’s customary to give money to caroling children, whose songs are believed to bring good luck. However, since January first is already considered a day of good fortune, even those who don’t receive carolers may be found trying their luck at cards in cafes, on the street, or even at casinos.


Although Namibia has adopted the western traditions of fireworks and new year’s resolutions, it’s also quite common for Namibians to spend the new year at the beach, where large celebratory bonfires run up and down the country’s sandy coast. Some households also host “braai barbecues” with plenty of meat cooked over wood-stoked fires. Barbecue parties tend to involve costumes, themes, and a whole lot of dancing. With a population that’s nearly ninety percent protestant, it’s also common to find Namibians at church attending a special midnight service when the clock strikes twelve.

The Netherlands

With hopes of a prosperous new year, Dutch people will often buy a lottery ticket, or oudejaarslot, on New Year’s Eve, when the jackpot is the highest of the year. As they wait for the winning numbers to be called, they’re likely to snack on oliebol – deep-fried sugary balls of dough that are sold at local stands known as Oliebollenkraam. As in most places, the new year is celebrated with a show of fireworks, though in the Netherlands, that show starts three days before it actually turns January first and doesn’t end until the wee hours of New Year’s morning. In fact, the Dutch seem to have a real penchant for fiery displays, because they’ve also been known to ring in the new year by stacking and burning Christmas trees, and occasionally setting a car or two on fire. After the fires have gone out, the Dutch wake up on January first and head to the beach, where they dive in the (freezing cold) sea as a way of renewing themselves for the year to come. This tradition also entails eating an Unox hotdog and drinking a beer.


A number of secular and religious events take place around New Years in Thailand. It’s a three-day holiday extending from December 31st to January 3rd, and many city dwellers travel to their hometowns in the provinces to spend these days with family and friends. Seafood is eaten, gifts – including chicken broth and religious paraphernalia – are given, and the color white is worn. Many Buddhist temples also host dharma talks, which are speeches that extend from the last few hours of the old year through the beginning of the new year. Some people who attend the dharma talks tie sacred white threads from their cars to the outside of the Buddhist temple so that the cars will be blessed and avoid accidents in the coming year. Alms are given to monks, and then, fifteen minutes into the new year, floating lanterns are released into the night sky to represent the cleansing of the previous year’s sins.
For secular celebrators, when the clock strikes twelve, firework shows put on by urban malls begin, and partygoers yell “sawatdee pi mai” – Happy New Year!

ALTA Language Services wishes you a very Happy New Year! If your list of New Year’s resolutions includes learning a new language, contact us for information about our language training programs. We also offer a wide variety of translation and interpretation services to meet your foreign language needs.

About the Author: Danielle Martin has taught multiple subjects to students in three different states. She currently teaches English as a foreign language to international students. Danielle writes about education and lifestyle topics, and she also enjoys writing fiction.

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