Most cultures in recorded history have celebrated the turning of the year, and it is perhaps the most widely-celebrated holiday in the world. However, the sheer variety of dates and customs different cultures have associated with the New Year is amazing. Just about any time of the year, from bleak mid-winter to the dog days of summer, is probably New Year’s Day somewhere. Some cultures hold joyous feasts and parties, while others turn to prayer and reflection. Some New Year’s observances even turn into other holidays entirely: the ancient Celtic New Year was Samhain, the beginning of fall and a day when the dead roamed the earth – and today, many of these customs have been retained in the modern Halloween. Take some time to learn about the many fascinating forms of the New Year!
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AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
NEW! New Year’s Eve in Africa
One of About.com’s expert guides gives an overview of New Year’s Eve celebrations across the continent.
NEW! Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year): September 11
Enkutatash, or “gift of jewels,” marks the traditional Ethiopian New Year. Find out some traditions of this holiday, which according to legend dates to the time of the Queen of Sheba.
High Holy Days on the Net (find it on ipl2)
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, has been celebrated in the Middle East since ancient times, and today is celebrated by Jewish people around the world. This site not only explains the meaning and customs of Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days, but offers holiday recipes, craft ideas, eCards, and much more!
NEW! Islamic New Year
Ras as-Sana al-Hijreya, the Islamic New Year and the first day of the holy month Muharram, is said to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s flight to Medina, and is a solemn time for prayer. Along with Islam, the holiday has spread from its Middle Eastern roots around the world.
No-Rooz, The Iranian New Year at Present Times (find it on ipl2)
Iran has been celebrating the New Year on the first day of spring since ancient times. Learn about Iran’s New Year’s customs, and check out the “No-Rooz: The Zarathushtrian New Year” link at the bottom of the page to learn more about this holiday’s historical roots.
NEW! Yennayer Begins in Algeria
According to legend, Yennayer, the Amazigh (Berber) New Year, has been celebrated in northwestern Africa since the days of the Egyptian pharaohs. Learn more about this holiday’s often-delicious traditions and its renewed popularity after years of official neglect. This article is available in English, French, and Arabic.
NEW! Diwali Festival – Hindu New Year (India)
This site, developed by the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India, highlights many of the traditions, customs, celebrations and significance of the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali. Celebrated for five days and with different customs around Asia as well as within India itself, this site is a colorful collection of Indian religious history, gift-giving ideas, and provides links to external sites for Diwali cards, food, articles, and details about Diwali celebrations around the world.
Chinese New Year (find it on ipl2)
Based on the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year brings about a new zoological zodiac name each year and this site “provides information on how the Chinese New Year’s Day is determined, the Chinese solar/lunar calendar, the animals of the Chinese zodiac, and significance of Chinese dragons, calligraphy, and Chinese graphics.” In addition to historical information, this site also provides links to other yearly calendars from around the world.
NEW! Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey)
Celebrated in April for three to four days, the Cambodian New is a traditional respite before the rainy season and is Cambodia’s “most important festival and holiday.” This site, written by a leader within the American Khmer Community in Washington, highlights the New Year traditions and games involved with the Khmer population’s largest celebration.
Shogatsu – Japanese New Year (find it on ipl2)
This site, devoted to information about Japanese holidays and popular events, highlights the traditions and decorations of Shogatsu, celebrated around the same time as the traditional American New Year. It contains links to traditional foods, games, and decorations traditionally displayed during Shogatsu, complete with colorful and detailed photographs and descriptions.
Têt Nguyen Dan – Vietnamese New Year (find it on ipl2)
In February, the Vietnamese community observes the Celebration of Rebirth, commonly known as Têt, described as “New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all rolled into one.” The traditions, rich history, Vietnamese zodiac, and modern adaptations of the celebration are outlined and highlighted within this site. There is also an array of related links, articles, and resources listed as well as a link to send free Happy Têt e-cards!
EUROPE AND AUSTRALIA
The New Year’s Day Parade, London (find it on ipl2)
At noon on January 1, “more than 10,000 performers, representing over a dozen countries world-wide, assemble in the heart of London bringing music, merriment and laughter to the waiting crowds.” The site features a history of the parade, photographs back to 1991, a list of current participants, and a map of the parade route.
NEW! The Mystery of Dinner for One: How an obscure British skit has become Germany’s most popular New Year’s tradition.
Read about a German and Scandinavian tradition – a New Year’s Eve broadcast of the British comedy sketch Dinner for One. Although the comedy sketch is not set around the holiday season, the traditional broadcast has landed the sketch in the Guinness Book of World Records for most repeated TV show ever. If you are interested, the most popular 18 minute version with a German introduction can be found at Google Video.
NEW! Christmas and New Year in Ireland Long Ago
The Irish celebrate New Year’s Eve, known as Oíche Chinn Bliana (Year’s End Night) and Oíche na Coda Móire (The Night of the Great Feast), by lighting candles and placing them in the windows throughout their homes. Tradition also calls for a cake of bread which is bashed against the front door in order to banish the threat of hunger. The night is often associated with the dead, as absent members of the families are remembered in the family rosary.
NEW! Dutch New Year Celebrations
The Dutch begin their New Year’s Eve celebration with a quiet evening at home with their families playing board games, watching television, and eating oliebol (Dutch doughnuts), which are washed down with coffee and champagne. The streets remain deserted, public transportation stops running, and bars and cafes remain closed, that is until the stroke of midnight when families take to the streets to watch the traditional fireworks show.
NEW! BBC Scotland – Hogmanay: It’s a tradition
Scotland’s New Year’s Eve tradition, Hogmanay, takes place on December 31st, although the celebration lasts for several days. One popular Hogmanay custom is that of the ‘first-footer,’ in which one’s luck is determined by the first person to visit their home after midnight. If the first-footer is a tall, dark, and handsome man, bringing a small gift, than the occupants will have good luck throughout the year. Read about other Hogmanay customs that vary by locality.
NEW! Sydney Australia’s NYE 2011
Sydney celebrates New Year’s Eve with a big bang! At the stroke of midnight a 12-minute interactive Fireworks Display is launched from seven barges on the Sydney Harbour, the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the rooftops of seven city skyscrapers. The theme for ringing in 2012, which will bring more than 1.5 million people to the Harbour, is Time to Dream, which is captured through colors and a show-stopping bridge effect.
LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN
NEW! An Ecuadorian tradition, New Year’s Eve burning of the Año Viejo dummies
Año Viejo, Old Year, is an Ecuadorian tradition where life-sized dummies are made only to be burned as a symbol of “out with the old and, we can assume, in with the new.” This web page discusses the origins of the tradition as well as its significance to its participants.
NEW! Junkanoo: Bahamian Festival
Junkanoo is a colorful festival celebrated on the streets of Nassau in the early morning of December 26th and New Year’s Day. This Bahamian festival began as “temporary celebration of freedom of slaves” and has been kept alive by islanders. This site describes Junkanoo’s history and celebration.
NEW! 10 Mexican Traditions for the New Year
In Mexico, Christmas traditions run from New Year’s Day through February. This web page discusses ten New Year’s Day Mexican customs concerning what to wear, eat, and cleaning rituals. It also gives an overview of Catholic traditions following New Year’s Day, El Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings Day, and El Dia de la Candelaria, Candlemas Day.
NEW! New Year in Argentina: Traditions and Customs
New Year’s Day celebrations in Argentina are similar to much of the rest of the world with parties and fireworks. This website describes a typical New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for Argentinean families, including traditions like swimming in pools, lakes, and rivers and attending church.
NEW! New Year’s Eve at Copacabana
The second largest event in Brazil, New Year’s Eve at Copacabana, mixes Brazilian and African culture. This web page describes the beach celebration, including boats sent into the sea, fireworks, and the use of color and lights as a grand city-wide festivity.
UNITED STATES AND CANADA
United States New Year (find it on ipl2)
This site provides information on the spectacular celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square, New York City, on December 31st. It includes facts on the construction and descent of the famous Waterford crystal ball, the history of past events, and the event fact sheets and schedules. If you cannot make it to Times Square to post your wishes on the wishing wall, no worries, you can submit your wish to the virtual wishing wall online.
Popular New Year’s Resolutions (find it on ipl2)
This web site contains a list of 13 common New Year’s resolutions with links to related government web sites. Topics include losing weight, paying off debt, getting a better job, getting fit, quitting smoking, reducing stress, taking a trip, and volunteering to help others.
NEW! An Iroquois New Year’s Celebration
The Iroquois New Year is a mid-winter ceremony which takes place around February 1st. The Iroquois thank the Creator for “the Earth’s bounty,” and according to anthropologist Anthony Wallace, the first day included “the public naming of babies followed by a celebratory eating of corn soup.”
NEW! What is Soyal
Like many cultures, the Hopi celebrate the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The Soyal ceremonies are designed to encourage the sun’s return. Many Hopi people also hold parties and exchange gifts to celebrate the New Year. Learn more about Soyal and the story of the sun’s struggle against darkness here!
NEW! Orthodox New Year in Canada
Canadian Orthodox Christian New Year celebrations include social gatherings, and feature traditional activities and food from Russia and the Ukraine, where the Orthodox Church predominates. Many Orthodox congregations observe the New Year on January 1st of the Julian calendar, which falls around January 14th of the international-standard Gregorian calendar.
NEW! Traditional New Year Celebrations in Canada
Canadians follow customs which are intended to “bring good luck, peace, and prosperity to everyone.” The polar bear swim on New Year is one such tradition in which almost everyone participates. Canadians also have “a tradition of clapping and roaring” at midnight when the New Year arrives in the belief that it chases away the evils of the past year. Kissing is a traditional way of showing love and good wishes, so people in Canada kiss and wish each other Happy New Year at midnight.
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