As everyone settles into the post-holiday phase and begins making fresh plans for the future, it’s fun to think about all the ways people around the world welcome the start of a new year. Here in the U.S., we go to parties, watch the Times Square ball drop on TV, and make resolutions for self-improvement. But pretty much every place on earth has its own quirky traditions for the new year’s beginning.
People in Latin American countries practice all kinds of customs to lock in some luck for the next twelve months. Some eat twelve grapes at midnight– one for each month of the new year. Others jump in the ocean for a midnight swim, or, if they’re hoping for some travel in the near future, they might take a walk around the block with their suitcases. Some swear by sporting yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve, a superstition thought to bring happiness, luck, and wealth to the wearer over the next year.
In Japan, the New Year’s celebration is known as oshogatsu, a festival that lasts from December 28 into the beginning of January. For oshogatsu, the Japanese do some serious deep cleaning to purify their homes for a fresh new start. They also observe the first sunrise of the year (a.k.a. hatsuhinode), listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and eat lots of mochi— tasty rice cakes so sticky that they usually cause some New Year’s choking deaths…yikes.
A few years ago, I spent New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, Scotland, which hosts one of the most epic celebrations in the world. The week-long festival is known as Hogmanay and features all sorts of enchanting activities including music, food, fireworks, Ferris wheels, and giant crowds of revelers partying in the streets. But my favorite part was the Torchlight Procession, in which 25,000 some people march through the streets of Edinburgh carrying torches, creating a massive “river of fire” to purify the darkness with light and make way for the new year– a tradition rooted in ancient Viking customs and pagan solstice celebrations. Oh, and when I was there, the torch parade was led by some guys dressed as Vikings, who dragged a giant Viking warship to the top of a hill and set it on fire. That’s when the fireworks started. It was pretty awesome.
No torch parades for me this year, but the year is still young! It’s not too late to start some new traditions of your own. Clean your room, get yourself some yellow underwear, eat some sticky rice, set some Viking ships aflame (but exercise caution with those last two)…make way for 2013!