All over the world, it is the holiday season. People are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and other winter events. Family and friends are gathering around sparkling trees or glowing candles to enjoy delicious meals and pastries or to play games, attend services, and relax after a busy year. And there is one celebration left on the calendar – New Year’s Eve! Many families in the US like to gather at home that night, eat a big meal, and watch New Year’s Eve celebrations on TV. They may also go to firework shows, light their own fireworks, or bang pots and pans at the stroke of midnight.
Then I wondered: what do other folks do on New Year’s Eve? So, I did some research and this is what I found:
In Japan, they eat Toshikoshi soba noodles. Toshikoshi means “year crossing” or crossing from one year to the next. The noodles look like spaghetti and cutting the noodle means releasing any regrets from the current year and getting a fresh start in the new year. The noodles are made from buckwheat, a very resilient plant. They believe by eating these noodles they will gain strength in the new year.
Also in Japan, Buddhist temples start ringing their bells 107 seconds before midnight. The 108th ring happens at the stroke of midnight. This bell ringing is called “Joya no kane” and is done to dispel 108 evil desires believed to live in humans – such as anger, jealousy, and greed – and clean away all the sins of the past year. You can then start the new year with a clean heart and renewed spirit!
In Spain, during the last 12 seconds before midnight, they eat 12 grapes. It is believed that if you finish the 12 grapes by midnight, you will have 12 months ahead filled with ogood luck!
And speaking of fruit, in the Philippines, they serve 12 round fruits on New Year’s Eve. The round fruit symbolizes round coins, which means wealth and prosperity. They believe eating 12 round fruits will bring a year filled with wealth. Let’s all start munching those apples, oranges, and melons!
In the Czech Republic, they like to slice an apple in half on New Year’s Eve to determine the fate of everyone in the room. If the apple core looks like a star, then everyone will meet again in health and happiness. If the core is shaped like a cross, then someone at the party will become ill. Let’s hope every apple this year shows a star!
But vegetables get their moment of fame, too! In Columbia, they place three potatoes under their bed on New Year’s Eve: one peeled, one unpeeled, and one half peeled. In the morning, they close their eyes and reach under their bed. The first potato they grab is said to indicate their wealth in the new year. The unpeeled potato means lots of wealth ahead. The peeled potato means money problems, and the half-peeled potato means something in between – not great riches or rags. I know which potato I would hope to pick!
Now, let’s talk about sweets! In Denmark on New Year’s eve, they eat a towering pile of marzipan donuts called “kransekag.” This means “wreath cake” due to the tower’s round shape. In the past, these doughnut towers were knocked over, spilling out chocolates and treats. This is like our Thanksgiving cornucopias with pumpkins and corn, but these towers sound much more delicious! And after eating these delicious donuts, they take their plates and THROW THEM at their friends’ and neighbors’ doors. This is said to symbolize leaving bad feelings behind. It is supposed to be a good sign if you find a lot of broken china at your door. I think the smashing plates would sound scary and my pets wouldn’t like it, either. I think I would much prefer treats at my door!
And speaking of smashing things on New Year’s Eve, in Ireland, they bang bread on their walls! This is thought to scare away any bad spirits in the house so that good luck – like lots of food – will come into the house in the new year. Single ladies also put mistletoe under their pillows on New Year’s Eve in hopes of finding a husband in the new year.
If bread is lucky for the Irish, then pomegranates – and the number seven – are lucky in Brazil. On New Year’s Eve, they eat seven pomegranate seeds and seven grapes for wealth in the year ahead. They also like to jump over seven ocean waves while making seven wishes. While at the ocean, they also throw flowers into the waves and light candles. These are offerings to their deity, Yemoja, who lives in the ocean and provides bountiful blessings.
And just like in Brazil, the Greeks use pomegranates as part of their New Year’s Eve celebration. In ancient times, they believed pomegranates were a symbol of life, abundance, and fertility. Today, they smash a pomegranate on their door right after midnight and the number of scattered seeds they see indicates the amount of good luck they will have in the new year. So, if they see lots of scattered seeds, that means lots of luck! They also like to eat a sweet bread called Vasilopita at midnight in honor of St. Basil. Starting with the oldest person in the household, they break off a slice of bread and leave it for St. Basil, and then one slice each for others. The bread contains a hidden coin and whoever receives the slice of bread with the coin is said to come into luck in the new year. In Greece, they also hang onions from their doors to bring growth in the new year. They use onions because this vegetable loves to sprout roots and grow.
Heading South to Ecuador, they like to make straw scarecrows and burn them in a big bonfire in the middle of town. This symbolizes an end to the old year and any evils, and the welcoming of the new year ahead.
More burning events happen in Germany. On New Year’s Eve, they like to do lead pouring, called BleigieBen. Every person melts a small piece of lead with a candle flame and then pours the lead into a cup of water. The shape of the lead indicates their fate in the new year. It’s like the fortune-telling practice of reading tea leaves, wine stains, or coffee grounds but with lead!
And in Russia, they like to burn things, too! They write down their New Year’s Eve wishes on a piece of paper, burn it, and drink the ashes in a glass of champagne! Another one of their newer traditions is to go to freezing Lake Baikal and watch as two divers take a decorated Christmas tree down 100 feet to the bottom of the freezing cold lake! I don’t know why they put a Christmas tree at the bottom of a lake, do you? Maybe they believe in a lake God and wish to honor it.
In Turkey at the stroke of midnight, they like to sprinkle salt on their doorstep in the hopes of bringing peace and prosperity to their home in the new year.
And in Estonia, they believe the numbers 7, 9, and 12 are lucky, so on New Year’s Eve they eat 7, 9, or 12 meals! If they can’t eat all the food, they leave it for their dearly departed loved ones and friendly spirits! I know if I left food around the house, the one eating it would be my dog!!!
In Scotland, they celebrate Hogmanay, which is even bigger than Christmas! They like to practice “first footing,” which is visiting houses of family and friends with food and drink at the stroke of midnight so they are the “first feet” to cross doorsteps in the new year. This is supposed to bring good luck to the household in the year ahead. Legend has it that dark-haired men are preferred during first footing. Why? Well, in ancient times, when the Scots were invaded by the Vikings, they were terrified of the Vikings’ flowing blond hair and beards – as well as their ships and weapons. That is why they prefer to see dark-haired people at their door on New Year’s Eve!
Can you believe all these amazing customs, traditions, and foods?! Everything from drinking ashes and smashing plates to reading fortunes and deep diving! I would like to try some of these traditions this New Year’s Eve and see what happens in 2023. What about you? What traditions do you practice at home? Are there any new ones you would like to try?
One custom I would like to start is a “Grateful Jar.” You put a jar or container on a counter in your house and every time you are grateful for something throughout the year – like a good grade at school, a new friend, or anything else, you write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. Then on the next New Year’s Eve, you remove all the pieces of paper and read them. I think this is a great way to remind us of our many blessings – both big and small.
I would love to hear from you and learn what you do for New Year’s Eve. Feel free to complete and submit the form on the Bedtime History website. You just may be featured on our podcast in the new year!
Until then, from my house to yours, Happy New Year!