Extension Viewpoints: Unique New Year’s traditions from around the world


By Robin Young
PREVIEW Columnist

As we say goodbye to 2020 (adios, au revoir, sla’n, agur) and all the challenges we faced globally, a glimpse of how the world uniquely celebrates the new year may be a great way to welcome a fresh start for all of us. 

New Year’s traditions are unique to their country of origin, drawing upon specific objects, cuisines and celebrations that are inherent to their culture. The earliest recorded New Year’s festivities date back to ancient Babylon, where the first new moon following the vernal equinox marked the start of the new year. Babylonians celebrated with a religious festival called Akuti, a multiday festival that honored the rebirth of the natural world.

Over the years, calendars fell out of sync with the sun, prompting the start of the year to fall on different days, until Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 45 B.C. Caesar instituted Jan. 1 as the first day of the year and the calendar closely resembled that of the modern Gregorian calendar. Today, most festivities begin on Dec. 31 — the last day of the Gregorian calendar — and continue into the early hours of Jan. 1.

Whether it’s sharing a meal with family and friends or throwing old furniture out the window, each of these customary, luck-filled New Year’s traditions derives from a unique origin. Below are some of the most fascinating celebrations and traditional foods from around the world. 

Brazil — Brazilians dress in all white garb to signify luck, prosperity and ward off evil spirits.

Colombia — Colombians carry empty suitcases around the block at midnight in hopes of having a travel-filled year.

Denmark — Danish revelers save unused plates and affectionately shatter them against doors of their family and friends to ward off bad spirits.

Ecuador — Ecuadorians create large effigies of politicians, pop culture figures and other icons and set them on fire to burn the año viejo or “old year.”

Spain — Spaniards eat one grape for every toll of the clock at midnight to represent good luck for each month of the coming year.

Switzerland — Residents in Switzerland drop a dollop of ice cream on the floor at midnight to bring about good luck, wealth and abundance.

Food, glorious food

Kransekage (Denmark) — A wreath cake made using marzipan rings stacked on top of each other, decorated with ornaments and flags.

Vasilopita (Greece) — Sain Basil’s cake baked with a silver or gold coin inside brings luck to whoever finds it in their slice.

Soba noodles (Japan) — Buckwheat noodles eaten at midnight which symbolize longevity and prosperity.

Oliebollen (The Netherlands) — Fried, donut-like dumplings dusted with powdered sugar.

Cotechino con Lentichie (Italy) — A sausage and lentil stew that is believed to bring good luck, money and fortune.

Black-eyed-peas (United States) — Medium-sized, edible beans that symbolize coins are believed to bring good luck.

Whatever you do to ring in the new year, I hope you have a very joyous and prosperous year. Be kind to one another and be safe. ¡Feliz año nuevo!

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