Looking for the world’s most exciting New Year’s celebrations? You’re in luck! While this day might be celebrated in different ways, and even on different dates, most cultures around the globe recognise the symbolic importance of closing one chapter and opening another every year.
No matter where you are, New Year’s Eve represents a chance to leave your worries behind, start fresh, and – perhaps most importantly – eat some traditional New Year’s food. Let’s take a look at some of the best celebrations you’ll find anywhere on Earth.
New Year’s in China: A fifteen-day festival
Based on the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year always falls between January 21 and February 20. This traditional Chinese holiday is the longest New Year observance in the world, lasting for a total of 15 days. As you might have guessed, two weeks leaves room for a lot of different celebrations and traditions.
Every day of the Chinese New Year calendar has a special meaning, with specific ceremonies and traditional food associated with it. China also celebrates New Year’s Eve on December 31st with festive fireworks displays, which are stunning, but seen as less symbolically important when compared to the longer lunar new year celebrations.
If you’re trying to make the most of Chinese New Year, find some inspiration and start planning your trip now! This is a busy time of the year, with millions of people on the move around the world in what is often considered the world’s largest annual human migration.
New Year’s in Colombia: Eating grapes and burning effigies
Colombia follows the Gregorian calendar, meaning New Year’s Eve takes place on December 31st. Along with the usual fireworks displays, this South American nation has a few traditions of its own.
As they do in Spain, locals eat twelve grapes on the count of midnight, with each grape representing a wish they hope will come true. Some people take it to a speed-eating extreme, and try to eat one grape per strike of the clock at midnight. Others try to find sneaky ways around the rules by drinking the grapes in liquid form, which unfortunately doesn’t count.
There are a few other fun holiday activities here, including burning effigies (año viejo) representing aspects of the last year you’d like to leave behind, as well as putting lentils in your pocket to attract wealth over the next year.
The most unique Colombian New Year’s tradition might be the act of running around with a suitcase as the clock strikes midnight. This is sometimes done to ensure that the coming year will be full of positive travel experiences – no flight delays for you!
Silvester in Germany: An explosive end to the year
New Year’s Eve in Germany is referred to as ‘Silvester’, dating back hundreds of years to Pope Sylvester I. St. Sylvester’s day fell on December 31st, which happened to be the last day on the Gregorian calendar after it was reformed in 1582. Ever since then, the Catholic saint has become synonymous with end-of-year festivities
Germany is known for its intense New Year’s Eve celebrations, especially in its capital Berlin. This celebration brings out a sense of lawlessness in an otherwise fairly strict and orderly society, and serves as a way for locals to blow off some steam – and blow up some homemade rockets.
While there have been calls to limit the festivities, Germany’s love of fireworks and improvised pyrotechnic displays is among the most passionate in the world, and New Year’s Eve in Berlin is one of the craziest and most memorable experiences you can have on December 31st.
New Year’s in Denmark: Smashing plates and making friends
Denmark is known for its sensible people, high standard of living, Tivoli Gardens, and brutal displays of dish-smashing around December 31st. Similar to the German approach of letting loose on the final day of the year, Danish traditions involve smashing plates on your friends’ and neighbours’ doorsteps.
Why? To show them you care. Ultimately, the larger the pile of broken dishes in front of your house is, the more friends you have who wish you good luck and fortune over the coming year. It’s not uncommon for people to stockpile some of their chipped or cracked plates specifically for this occasion – especially if they have a lot of friends or neighbours nearby.
Some Danes who tend towards the shyer side of the spectrum even pre-break their plates at home, so the shards can be distributed without the crashing and potential for throws to go astray. Ingenious!
New Year’s in the Netherlands: Diving right into it
While the Dutch also love to celebrate with fireworks and revelry on December 31st, January 1st is when things get really cool. Literally. The New Year’s Dive is a proud tradition in the Netherlands, in which thousands of people strip down to their underwear and dive into the nation’s ice-cold waters. Keep in mind that this is in the middle of winter, which has a tendency to get pretty harsh in this Northern European nation.
The biggest event takes place at Scheveningen, the country’s main beach, but many smaller versions of the New Year’s Dive happen across various locations. Unfortunately the Dutch capital’s UNESCO-listed canals are off-limits, but you can still explore them on a romantic New Year’s cruise.
New Year’s in Japan: Traditional New Year’s food
A traditional New Year’s dinner comes in many forms, depending on where you live. If you’re from Japan, it’s likely that your year is started with traditional food known as osechi-ryōri. Eaten on the first three days of the year, everything is presented in beautiful bento-style boxes and eaten together as a family.
Every item, as well as being delicious, carries a certain symbolism. Sweet chestnuts represent a desire for wealth, kelp rolls symbolize joy and happiness, while herring roe represent… well, you can find out more on that in this post about Christmas and New Year traditions in Japan.
Rosh Hashana in Israel: A sweet start to the year
Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of the civil year in Israel, and is considered to be the traditional anniversary of Adam and Eve’s creation according to the Hebrew Bible. This two-day celebration happens 163 days after the first day of Passover, which is generally between September 6th and October 6th.
Continuing the theme of delicious traditional New Year’s food, local customs include serving apples with honey to ensure a sweet year ahead. Other festive foods include round challah bread, pomegranates, and dates. If all that made you hungry, consider visiting the home of Rosh Hashana and trying a traditional Israeli food tour.
Hogmanay in Scotland: Playing with fire
Known as one of the world’s greatest New Year’s celebrations, no list would be complete without mentioning Scotland’s Hogmanay. A huge nationwide street party taking place on the last day of the year, Hogmanay is known for its abundant celebrations and prolific use of fire.
The most famous event has to be the Edinburgh festival, which lasts for four consecutive days leading up to New Year’s Eve, and culminates in one of the world’s biggest parties. Thousands of people flock to it from around the globe (ticket sales are limited to 100,000 for safety reasons) in order to take part and go absolutely hog-wild.
One highlight is the ‘Torchlight Procession’ on the 30th of December, where thousands of people carry flaming torches alongside drummers and bagpipes before forming a symbolic shape that differs depending on the year. Another highlight? The free-flowing scotch.
Songkran in Thailand: The world’s biggest water fight
What do you think of when you imagine Thailand? Is it the spectacular ancient temples? The floating markets full of exotic fruits? If you’ve visited before during April, you might think of Songkran instead.
Easily one of the most fun and unique traditions on the list, Songkran is a water festival marking the beginning of the Thai New Year. It takes place between April 13–15 every year, and locals and visitors alike gather in their masses to celebrate.
Songkran involves a lot of delicious Thai street food and traditional performances, but the main attraction is a huge and seemingly endless water fight that ends up with everyone completely soaked. We recommend not wearing your best clothes.