Celebrating the New Year, wherever you are in the world
If it’s New Year’s Eve in Europe or the Pacific, it’s time to party. From small towns to national capitals, crowds gather to welcome the new year with champagne, fireworks and public celebrations.
But each country also has its own traditions. Some have roots that go way back; others are newer and kind of quirky.
So if you really want to celebrate the way locals do, try the following:
BritainEspecially in Scotland, visiting family and friends is a New Year’s tradition. It’s very special to be the first visitor after a night of drinking. The tradition, called first footing, claims that the first person over a home’s threshold on New Year’s Day will dictate the luck brought to that household that year. Therefore, that person should be male, tall, dark and handsome, and should not be a doctor, minister or grave digger.
The first footer usually brings a piece of coal, loaf of bread and a bottle of whiskey. Once inside, he silently puts the coal in the fire, puts the bread on the table and pours a glass of whiskey for the head of the house. He wishes everyone a “Happy New Year” and leaves through the back door.
If he does everything right, his reward is a kiss from every woman in the room.
TurkeyThe holiday combines New Year’s, Christmas and Turkish traditions, with many people exchanging gifts.
In urban centers such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, store windows are often decorated with greenery and ornaments. The New Year’s celebration reaffirms Turkey’s view of itself as European, a view encouraged by retailers.
Turkish people greet one another with “Mutlu yilar!” (literally, “Happy years!”), and the custom on New Year’s Eve is to wear red underwear, which guarantees the wearer a financially bountiful new year.
On New Year’s Day, everyone visits parents and grandparents, and the traditional greeting is to kiss the right hand of the older person, then touch it to the forehead in a sign of respect.
ItalyA main theme of celebrations is “out with the old.” The tradition is to discard bad things that had plagued you through the year, and then buy replacements to bring good luck. People actually used to throw things — plates, glasses, pots and pans, old clothing, even furniture — out of windows and from balconies. Thankfully, the practice has been outlawed.
As you might expect for Italy, food is also part of its tradition. The eating of cooked lentils, both at the stroke of midnight with sips of Italian spumante (sparkling wine), and again during the New Year’s Day feast, is a popular activity. Lentils and white grapes both symbolize money.
One more tradition: At Christmas, men, women, boys and girls all receive a piece of red intimate apparel as a gift, an item to be worn on New Year’s Day.
SpainIn many plazas — including Madrid’s El Puerto del Sol, which traditionally draws the largest crowd — revelers bring in the New Year by eating good-luck grapes. When the clocks begin to chime, they eat one grape for each toll of the bell. Those who eat the grapes in time will supposedly have good luck for the New Year.
However, devouring the large, green grapes in time is nearly impossible, especially for those who hit the champagne early in the evening. Many people can hardly get down six before laughing and giving up.
South KoreaEven though most South Koreans celebrate the New Year based on the lunar calendar — Jan. 29 is the next celebration — Jan. 1 also has significant meaning.
At midnight on Dec. 31, thousands of Seoul’s residents pack the downtown Jongno area to listen as a gigantic bell at Bosingak is sounded 33 times.
Most families, however, celebrate Seollal, the Lunar New Year’s Day.
The first thing they do is perform a charye ceremony to express gratitude to their ancestors. A memorial ceremony is conducted for ancestors up to the fourth generation. Families also visit their ancestors’ graves, the family lining up by age to bow.
There are several ways to enjoy Seollal, according to the Korea National Tourism Organization and Korea Cultural Center. Games such as neolttwigi, a standing seesaw; jultagi, tightrope walking; paengichigi, top spinning; jegichagi, shuttlecock kicking; and yutnori, a board game played by tossing sticks, are some of the traditional choices.
Many palaces, including Gyeongbokgung, Changgyeonggung, Changdeokgung and Deoksugung, offer free admission to anyone wearing traditional Korean attire called hanbok during the celebration.
Another favorite is watching the sunrise. Favorite spots in Seoul include Namsan Seoul Tower and the 63 Building, but thousands will flock to the sea at places like Gyeongpodae, Jeongdongjin, Naksansa Temple and Hwajinpo.
The most common food is tteokguk, a soup made of sliced rice cakes in beef or chicken broth. Other dishes include bindaetteok, mung- bean pancakes; sujeonggwa, cinnamon tea; and sikhye, a rice punch.
GermanyGermany has a tradition that also involves eating and drinking, but by someone else. And it is always the same procedure every year.
Starting around midafternoon on New Year’s Eve and continuing until midnight nears, television stations begin broadcasting an 18-minute black-and-white production titled “Dinner for One.” The two-person skit is a British cabaret number from the 1920s that was taped in 1963 in Germany and shown annually since then.
The sketch is in English, but German audiences don’t mind because it is basically one joke: James, the butler, gets increasingly drunk as he must drink the wine set out for four invisible friends attending Miss Sophie’s birthday dinner. There are many courses, and by the time he has finished the port from the final one, he can scarcely walk.
Each round is accompanied by the question “Same procedure as last year?” and the response, “Same procedure as every year.”
JapanIn Japan, families gather to bring in the New Year by visiting temples and eating traditional dishes called osechi.
Families begin the holiday on Dec. 31 by eating toshikoshi soba, literally translated as “crossing year noodles.” One belief is that the Japanese eat the noodles so their lives can be long and they’ll remain thin, like the noodles.
Many will trek to local temples to listen as the temple bells are sounded 108 times, which is meant to dispel evil spirits from the previous year, according to Kyoko Nakamura, a researcher at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living.
During the first three days of the year, families gather to eat osechi and drink sake, rice wine. They also visit shrines or temples to pray for good luck in the coming year.
Reporters Terry Boyd, Jason Chudy, Kevin Dougherty, Sandra Jontz and Scott Schonauer contributed to this story.