New Year’s: A worldwide celebration

A child stands by a dummy that is lit on fire at the start of

In a few more hours the ball will drop, champagne will flow, and
2004 will be a memory the world over. From presidential elections


the Peterson trial to the return of Duran Duran, it’s been
In a few more hours the ball will drop, champagne will flow, and 2004 will be a memory the world over. From presidential elections to “Nipplegate,” the Peterson trial to the return of Duran Duran, it’s been whirlwind. Some things go on – the fighting in Iraq, the terrible suffering brought on by killer tidal waves in the Indian Ocean – but as the New Year is rung in there is a traditional sense of renewal at work in the human psyche.

So it has been for more than 4,000 years. The New Year is perhaps one of humanity’s oldest holidays, common to every culture and time from the Egyptians and Babylonians to the generations that have grown up with Dick Clark in their living rooms.

Not everyone celebrates in the same way, but the communal threads of hope and possibility are so often intertwined with the nervous anticipation of the unknown and the superstition of human nature, that somehow the celebrations of our annual rebirth are connected to more than the date Jan. 1.


Shogatsu is the most important holiday in Japan, with most businesses shutting down for the first three days in January.

Years are viewed as separate books rather than continued chapters, so each one is supposed to provide a completely fresh start. All business for the old year should be concluded by New Year’s Eve, including the cleaning and repair of homes, before bonenkais (“year forgetting parties”) begin.

Buckwheat noodles, a symbol of longevity, are served for dinner and many families also watch the popular “kohaku uta gassen,” a television music special featuring famous J-pop and enka singers.

Temple bells sound the New Year at midnight and the next day is equally full of activity. It starts with a view of the sunrise (hatsuhinode) and, for a large portion of the country’s population, includes a visit to a local shrine or temple.

New Year’s Day is said to represent the year as a whole, so the entire day is focused on happy activities that are, ideally, free of stress and anger.


Eating beans on New Year’s Eve is said to guarantee residents will keep their jobs or find better employment. For those who wish to travel, running around the house with a suitcase is said to help ensure plentiful travel in the next year.


Tradition dictates that people eat 12 grapes at midnight as the clock from Puerta del Sol in Madrid strikes the hour. Each will bring a month of good luck. That, and it’s darn funny.


Año Viejo is celebrated in a unique way in this South American country – by literally blowing up the last year’s cares. A scarecrow, representing a problem or guilt of the past year and made of old newspapers and fireworks is dressed and placed outside each family home, then lit on fire at midnight. With the resulting explosion, the new year truly begins. A similar event takes place in Hungary, where effigies of “Jack Straw” are burned to represent the evils and misfortunes of the last year being carried away.


Broken dishes litter doorsteps on New Years Day, but only if residents are lucky. That’s because old dishes, saved throughout the year for just such a purpose, are traditionally thrown at the homes of friends on the holiday eve.

Puerto Rico

Children throw pails of water out the windows of their homes on New Year’s Eve to rid the space of evil spirits.


Allowing a drop of cream to spill on the floor New Years Day is said to bring a year of overflowing abundance to the home.


Street bonfires are stoked with Christmas trees as residents gather to drive out the spirit of the old year and ring in the new.


Macumba Voodoo Priestesses in Rio de Janeiro dress in blue skirts and white blouses on Jan. 1 to participate in a ceremony to the water goddess Yemanja. As part of the ceremony, a sacrificial boat loaded with flowers, candles and jewelry is pushed out to sea from Ipanema beach.

The American South (which, let’s face it, is its own country)

A bowl of black-eyed peas and turnip or collard greens is traditional New Years fare in this region of the country, where locals say each pea eaten counts for one dollar of earnings and each forkful of turnip green counts for $1,000. The total number eaten are said to equal a person’s salary in the next year, but even retirees need some: Eating 365 of the legumes is said to bring good health in the New Year.

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