Celebrating the New Year comes with a kaleidoscope of traditions around the globe. From eating grapes in Spain to breaking dishes in Denmark and choosing the color of your underwear in Brazil, each custom is a unique way to attract good luck for the upcoming year.
Globally, even the most skeptical find themselves drawn into these diverse and often surprising New Year rituals. Whether it’s partaking in the Italian tradition of eating lentils, toasting with sparkling wine, or being mesmerized by spectacular fireworks displays, the start of a new year is a time of universal celebration and hope.
However, not all cultures usher in the new year on the night of December 31st. The timing and traditions can vary significantly, offering a rich tapestry of global customs that highlight the diversity of human celebration.
Let’s embark on a journey to explore the myriad of ways people around the world celebrate the New Year.
The Most Unique New Year’s Celebration Around the World
Here are the top 10 New Year’s traditions every traveler would like to join!
1. Chinese New Year
For the Chinese, the year begins in the first month of the lunar calendar, between our January 21 and February 21.
The celebrations last about a week and involve decorations, parades, folk traditions, and feasts. And the party color is red: houses and streets are decorated with lanterns and dragons in this color and sometimes even painted as such.
Gold also has its place in the party, but white is avoided – it’s considered the color of death. The festivity is also celebrated in other countries with significant Chinese populations, like Malaysia and Singapore.
2. Jewish New Year
Also known as Rosh Hashanah, or ‘head of the year’ in Hebrew, the Jewish New Year celebrates the beginnings of the Universe’s creation by God and man’s appearance.
It is celebrated in the Jewish calendar month of Tishrei – between the end of September and the beginning of October. It’s also believed that, during the two days of Rosh Hashanah, God judges the deeds of humans over the years.
Before being a festive date, the Jewish New Year is a moment for introspection and reflection. Therefore, it’s common for people to fast and visit synagogues on this date.
One of the most important symbols of Rosh Hashanah is the shofar, a horn used by Jews since they were nomads. To them, the shofar sound can open the heavens so prayers may enter.
3. Vietnamese New Year
In Vietnam, the arrival of the new year is marked by the beginning of spring in the lunar calendar, similar to the Chinese New Year.
Therefore, it’s celebrated on the same day as their giant neighbors and lasts about three days. Vietnamese celebrate the date by preparing typical seasonal foods and cleaning the house.
There are also some traditions and superstitions for the date, like visiting someone on the first day of the year, honoring ancestors, giving money to children and older people, and even opening a business.
4. Diwali, the Indian New Year
The Indian Festival of Lights marks the beginning of the Hindu year. It is celebrated for five days and usually falls between October and early November in our calendar.
At this time, thousands of candles are lit throughout India, and streets and homes are all illuminated. There are fireworks. It is also customary to give family and friends sweets and other things, as well as wear new clothes during these days.
Suggested Read: How to Celebrate Holi in India
5. Islamic New Year
Celebrated on the first day of the Islamic month of Muharram, the Islamic New Year typically falls between late August and early October in our Gregorian calendar. It is important to note that the Islamic New Year is not an official religious celebration, and therefore, not all Muslims may observe it with festivities.
The date commemorates the Hijra, the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, which led to the establishment of the first Muslim community based on Islamic teachings and the institution of the first Islamic state after enduring 13 years of religious persecution in Mecca.
In 2023, Muslims observe the year 1445 on their calendar.
6. South Korean New Year
Also celebrated according to the lunar calendar, the South Korean New Year is a family festival on the same date as the Chinese and Vietnamese. It’s common to offer food and drink to the family’s ancestors.
Children may receive money or gifts on this date. There is also a joint meal and typical seasonal games to play with the family.
7. Songkran, the Thai New Year
Songkran, the Water Festival, is an experience like no other, marking the Thai New Year. It’s a time of jubilation, tradition, and a splash of fun!
The festival traditionally symbolizes purification and the washing away of last year’s woes and misfortunes. The central element, water, represents cleansing, renewal, and hope.
The streets become an enormous stage of joy where everyone – young and old, locals and tourists – partakes in a colossal water fight. Armed with water guns, buckets, and hoses, people drench each other in a spirit of fun and festivity. But it’s not all play; there’s a deep spiritual and cultural side to it.
Beyond the water festivities, people visit temples to pray and offer food to monks. A common tradition involves pouring water over the hands of elders and seeking their blessings. This practice reflects the respect and importance of family and elders in Thai culture.
And then there’s the food – the streets are filled with the tantalizing aromas of classic Thai dishes. There’s a sense of unity and shared celebration in the air.
8. Nowruz, the Persian New Year
Nowruz, meaning “new day,” is an enchanting and deeply meaningful celebration, especially in Iran and other countries with Persian heritage.
Celebrated on March 21st, aligning with the spring equinox, Nowruz is more than just a calendar change. It’s a celebration of nature’s renewal and the rejuvenation of life. Picture streets and homes filling with joy and hope as families prepare to welcome a new beginning.
One of the most distinctive and beautiful aspects of Nowruz is the preparation of the Haft-Seen table. This tradition focuses on assembling seven specific items, each starting with the letter ‘S’ in Persian. Each item on the Haft-Seen carries profound symbolism and represents a vital aspect of life. For instance, “Sabzeh” (sprouts of wheat, barley, or lentils) symbolizes rebirth and growth, “Seeb” (apple) signifies beauty and health, and “Serkeh” (vinegar) embodies patience and longevity.
Families gather around this carefully arranged table, sharing stories, food, and gifts.
9. Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year
Hogmanay in Scotland is a truly magical and unique New Year’s experience, filled with ancient traditions and festivities that light up the long Scottish winters.
This New Year’s celebration is a festive marathon that spans several days beyond the simple countdown to midnight. In many towns and cities, the festivities kick off with torchlit processions and parades, creating a twinkling spectacle of lights that winds through the ancient streets.
One of the most captivating aspects of Hogmanay is the tradition of “first footing.” This belief holds that the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight will determine the fortune of that household for the coming year.
Traditionally, good luck is especially auspicious if the “first footer” is a tall, dark-haired man, bringing with him symbolic items like coal, salt, shortbread, whisky, or a fruitcake, each representing different kinds of good fortune like warmth, flavor, sustenance, and good cheer.
Music, dancing, food, and drink abound, with people gathering to share stories, laugh, and wish each other all the best for the coming year.
10. The Fiji’s Diwali
Diwali in Fiji presents a unique and vibrant cultural celebration. While primarily a Hindu festival, Diwali in Fiji, with its significant Indo-Fijian population, takes on a special significance as it also marks the beginning of a new year.
During Diwali, homes and streets across Fiji light up with the soft, enchanting glow of lamps and candles. This illumination is not just a feast for the eyes; it symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.
In Fiji, Diwali is when people dress in their finest clothes, adding a splash of color and elegance to the festivities. There’s a sense of renewal and joy as people come together with friends and family. The exchange of sweets and gifts during Diwali is a gesture of goodwill and sharing happiness, strengthening the bonds within the community.
The festival also includes a range of traditional activities and rituals, blending Fijian and Indian cultural elements. This fusion creates a unique experience where different communities come together, showcasing Fiji’s multicultural identity.
Editor of Yes, Summer! I am a Brazilian journalist, writer, and digital nomad. I have been traveling the world, telling stories, and tasting local beers since 2010. I am the co-founder of 360meridianos, a reference in travel writing in Brazil, and author of the newsletter Migraciones. On social media, I'm always reachable at @natybecattini.