Learning about all the wonderful New Year’s traditions around the world will make you rethink how you celebrate at home. Do you ring in the new year with a kiss at midnight, or stay up late to watch your town’s fireworks display? Maybe you prefer to stay inside where it’s warm and watch the Times Squre ball drop with your family. We’re guessing your family even has a tradition or two of its own!
All around the world, countries celebrate the new year just like us — but in totally different ways. Whether it’s the Danes who enjoy smashing plates on each other’s doors, or the Spanish who guzzle 12 grapes as soon as the clock strikes midnight, each section of the globe has its own special way of doing things.
Keep scrolling to learn more about some of the most interesting and unique New Year’s traditions from around the world.
New Years Traditions Around The World Denmark Smashing Plates
Denmark: Smashing Plates
Breaking China isn’t usually cause for celebration — unless you’re in Denmark and it’s New Year’s Eve. It’s tradition to smash plates against people’s doors in this Scandinavian country as a sign of affection and friendship. In fact, it’s a good omen if you open your doors to a large pile of rubbish, because it means you’re loved and thought of by many. And don’t worry, the Danes make sure to use plates that are already cracked or damaged instead of ruining their new porcelain.
New Years Traditions Around The World Ecuador Burning Effigies
Ecuador: Burning Scarecrows
For New Year’s in Ecuador, there’s a different sort of light show. Citizens will burn effigies of politicians, cultural icons, movie characters, and more to symbolize the burning of the “año viejo,” Spanish for “old year.” Some excited celebrators will jump over the fire 12 times — one jump for each month.
The origins of this New Year’s tradition are said to be the 1895 yellow fever epidemic, which hit Guayaquil, a port city and trading hub, especially hard. Survivors packed multiple dead bodies into coffins and then burned them — an act that had as much to do with symbolism as purification.
These days, the tradition is much happier and lighter than the events that inspired its advent. Brightly colored towering effigies are built and paraded through the city, while families build smaller scarecrows out of paper and cover them with store-bought masks to burn at home. Men sometimes act as the “widows” of the effigies that will be burned and beg for money from townspeople.
New Years Traditions Around The World Spain 12 Grapes
Spain: 12 Grapes
Instead of starting the New Year with a smooch, Spaniards spend the first 12 seconds eating grapes — las doce uvas de la suerte (“the 12 lucky grapes”). If you can chew and swallow all 12 grapes by the last chime of the bell tower at Real Casa de Correos in Madrid's world-famous city square Puerta del Sol, then you’re rewarded with a year of good luck.
A popular origin story of the 12 grapes begins in 1909. After a bumper crop, farmers in Alicante, a port city in southeastern Spain, needed a way to sell off their surplus. Lo and behold, the tradition of eating grapes for the New Year was born.
In reality, this tradition most likely predates those Spanish farmers by a few decades. Old newspaper clippings from the 1880s tell stories of the bourgeoisie in Spain copying the French practice of enjoying grapes and champagne at the end of the year. It seems as though some citizens in Madrid took up this same habit to mock the upper class. Eventually, eating 12 grapes at midnight became a custom for all Spaniards.
New Years Traditions Around The World Philippines Kids Jumping
Philippines: 12 Jumps
There is a similar tradition of eating grapes in the Philippines for New Year’s, but it has more to do with the idea that the number 12 symbolizes prosperity. That said, people in the Philippines also regard 12 as an important number on New Year’s. As a result, kids are told to jump 12 times at the stroke of midnight in order to grow taller.
It’s unclear when or how this tradition began, but the image of millions of children jumping is just too cute. One columnist, Rod Nepomuceno, recounts his experiences to Philippine Star: “I also remember my uncles and aunties telling us gullible kids, 'Hey, don't forget, at the stroke of midnight, jump as high as you can repeatedly so you'll be taller.' And like a bunch of idiots, we'd jump up and down at the stroke of midnight. I didn't grow up to be as tall as Yao Ming, as I had hoped (that guy probably jumped a whole lot during Chinese New Year). But luckily, I did grow up to be reasonably tall. Well, at least tall enough to have the confidence to go out on dates without feeling too insecure about my height."
New Years Traditions Around The World South America Colored Underwear Meaning
South America: Colored Underwear
Finding the best New Year’s Eve outfit for any occasion is tricky — so why not just focus on your underwear? According to tradition in some South American countries, the color of your underwear dictates what the new year has in store for you.
There are small quirks within each country regarding the proper way to wear underwear. For example, it’s said to bring double the luck if you wear your green underwear inside out in Peru and then flip it back the correct way after midnight. In Bolivia, some ring in the new year by wearing their underwear backwards!
Red: Life (Spain)
Orange: Work success (Brazil)
Yellow: Happiness and good fortune (Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, )
Green: Good energy (Peru)
Blue: Tranquility (Portugal)
Pink: Romance (Argentina), friendship (Bolivia)
Black: This shade is believed to bring bad luck in most South American countries, so stay away from dark underwear!
New Years Traditions Around The World Finland Tin Casting
Finland: Casting Tin
One popular New Year’s activity for Finns is the casting of tin. The way this tradition works is everyone gets a tin horseshoe, a traditional good-luck sign. Then, they melt the horseshoe and pour the molten tin into a bucket of ice water. There’s no mold for the melted tin to fill, so the metal usually solidifies in an odd shape.
The next step is to interpret the shape of the tin once it hardens, as well as the shadow it casts. Whatever the results are will predict what’s in store for you in the new year. For example, it’s considered a bad sign if the new tin cast breaks into pieces.
New Years Traditions Around The World Canada Polar Bear Plunge
Canada: Polar Bear Swim
Polar bear swims, also called polar bear plunges, are common in Canada on New Year’s given the country’s cold temperatures. The Vancouver Polar Bear Club, which was started in 1920, recorded an all-time high of 2,550 swimmers in 2014.
As exhilarating as a cold shower may be, a dip in sub-60-degree water doesn’t excite us. In fact, it only makes us want to add another blanket to our fleece cocoon and sip our hot cocoa!
New Years Traditions Around The World Germany Berliner Pfannkuchen
The origin of the German tradition of enjoying pfannkuchen, basically a jelly-filled donut, to celebrate the new year is unknown, but one thing’s for sure: They’re pretty darn delicious. You can buy pfannkuchen year round, but the New Year’s version comes with a twist. Inside some pfannkuchen is onion or mustard instead of jelly — so watch what you eat!