People have been celebrating the start of the New Year for over 4000 years! Many cultures celebrate at times other than January 1 (following various cultural and religious practices). But ever since Julius Caesar declared in 46 BC that the year would begin according to the solar calendar, January 1 has become virtually a global celebration.
The way in which the New Year is celebrated varies widely! But there are many common themes, e.g. traditions that recognized the idea of getting rid of the old and bringing in the new, celebratory toasts, the use of fireworks, and activities that bring good luck or good health.
In Japan, New Year’s is the biggest holiday of the year. Over 1,000 balloons are released in Tokyo, carrying with them New Year’s wishes. Temples around the country ring huge bronze bells, and bowls of noodles are served, symbolizing longevity.
In Spain, people gather for the practice of eating 12 grapes at midnight in the market square. As each bell chimes, a grape is eaten to bring good luck in the New Year.
In Ireland, a loaf of bread is thrown against the outside walls, doors and windows of a home to chase out bad luck.
Belgium children buy decorated paper and write their wishes for the coming year. On New Year’s morning they read them to parents and godparents.
In Ecuador, the New Year is a time when bad luck and grievances of the previous year are forgotten. Effigies are created to represent past events, then filled with fireworks and burned in the streets.
Germans drop molten lead into cold water. The shape of the lead is a prediction of the future. They also leave a portion of the food eaten on New Year’s Eve on their plates until after midnight to ensure plentiful food in the coming year.
In Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American countries, you are supposed to grab your luggage at midnight and run around the block with it. This ensures that you’ll have a year filled with travels.
Some traditions involve tossing items! In Denmark, people break dishes at their neighbours’ doorsteps. The more broken dishes at your doorstep, the luckier you’ll be in the coming year. In Greece, pomegranates are rolled forcefully against the front door or smashed on the ground. The more seeds that spill, the more good fortune.
Fireworks also play a major part in many New Year’s celebrations. One of the largest takes place in Sydney, Australia, over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The glittery display features a multicolored firework “waterfall” cascading off the bridge in the shapes of butterflies, octopuses and flowers.
Another huge firework display is at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark. The 5-day fireworks festival begins the day after Christmas and continues until midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Canadian, eh? You might think that some of these celebrations sound strange, but think again. A popular Canadian tradition for the New Year is the Polar Bear Plunge, where Canadians jump into a cold water body (yes, on January 1).
Plunges across the country include Sunnyside Beach, Toronto (in support of Habitat for Humanity), Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie; Coronation Park, Oakville, Hutches on the Beach in Hamilton; English Bay in Vancouver, B.C; the icy waters of Boundary Bay, in Surrey, B.C.; and Portugal Cove, Newfoundland – to name just a few!