Ringing in the New Year Around the World

Champagne toasts, kisses at midnight, strains of “Auld Lang Syne.” This December 31, our gatherings and celebrations are going to be looking a little different, a little more intimate. But they don’t have to be boring or same old, same old. Why not spice up traditional festivities by borrowing inspiration from time-honored rituals for ringing in the New Year around the world? They’re easy to weave into your celebration without much fuss or expense. Plus, they’ll make welcoming 2021 all the more fun.

Make A Wish

It’s a European tradition to write wishes on square tissue paper, then crumple it up and set it alight. Let the charred paper float up to the ceiling. When it stops burning, catch the ashes when they float down to make your wish come true. Or, try this less festive but perhaps more therapeutic tactic. Bid farewell to an annus horribilus by writing whatever you want to leave behind from 2020 (where do we begin?) on a slip of paper. Then burn it to give yourself a symbolic fresh start. There are other New Year’s cleansing rituals. One in Mexico includes grabbing a broom and sweeping the dust out the front door to brush away negativity from the past 12 months. In Cuba they toss a bucket of water out the window to wash away the past year’s tears.

Grape Expectations

In a number of Spanish-speaking countries, it’s customary to eat a dozen grapes at midnight. One at each stroke of the clock to represent each month of the coming year. A sweet grape predicts a happy month; a sour one signals an unlucky month. Put grapes on wooden skewers and place them in individual bowls for family members. Or set out bunches and let them choose their own.

Best Case Scenario

Borrow a Colombian custom said to set the stage for a year of travel—here’s hoping. Find your favorite suitcase. Put an item that symbolizes your dream vacation (a swimsuit for the beach, a hat and scarf for the slopes, and so on) inside. Walk around the block with the case at midnight.

Peas Please

Legumes grace traditional New Year’s tables in much of Europe and Asia because as their round shapes resemble coins and connote prosperity. Pigs, too, are a symbol of affluence. Combining the two promises extra riches in the year ahead, according to lore. You might borrow the Italian culinary classic cotechino sausage and lentils, traditionally eaten at midnight. Or whip up the Southern American favorite Hoppin John (a combination of black-eyed peas, bacon, rice and spices) for New Year’s Day. Serve it with fresh cornbread and collard greens to ensure extra “green” in 2021. It’s easy to extend the “round foods equals prosperity” concept. Set out a bowl of oranges, serve circular foods such as tortellini and decorate with polka dots. Or wear them, as partygoers do in the Philippines.

Pudding on the Ritz

Borrow a sweet idea from Norway by serving dishes of rice pudding for dessert on New Year’s Eve with an almond hidden in one. According to Norwegian tradition, whoever discovers the nut in his dish will have a particularly good year.

Color Catchers

Italians often wear red for good luck on New Year’s Eve. Brazilians don white for health and peace in the year ahead. Venezuelans choose a shade that symbolizes their goals for the New Year (red clothes for romance, gold or green for money, white for a fresh start, etc.). Set out a basket of handkerchiefs, leis, boas, or paper hats in assorted colors. Tell  family to choose the shade they want based on their hopes for the future. Another twist: Light candles in colors that correspond to your own wish list for 2021.

Table Talk

Borrow the Spanish New Year’s custom of putting a gold coin under each dinner plate. Tell all to slip the coins into their pockets or hold them during the countdown to 2021 for good fortune. As an alternative, invite them to drop the coins into their Champagne (or whatever they’re drinking) before a midnight toast.

These are just some of our favorite traditions for ringing in the New Year around the world—would love to hear some of yours!


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