New Years Eve around the world

Cultures worldwide celebrate New Years with traditions vastly different than a sparkly "ball drop" in Times Square.

New Year Eve means saying goodbye to the past year and looking forward to a fresh start. It’s a day full of wishes and resolutions, with a special meaning that varies from culture to culture. People around the world pass down deeply cultural celebratory traditions through generations, but all hope for happiness and luck in the year to come.



The Japanese eat decorated rice cakes, called mochis, on New Years Eve. Made out of glutinous rice soaked in water for days, mochis are formed into different shapes. On the first day of the New Year, people will have a bowl of hot mochi soup with vegetables and soy sauce, o-zōni, and believe it will bring luck in the new year.

Another popular Japanese custom is the exchange of postcards between friends and families. The postcards normally have a Chinese zodiac sign, 12 kinds of animals representing different years, on them. Originally, Japanese people sent postcards to tell relatives far way that they were well or still alive. Today the custom evolved into greetings to people who they care about, like sending a Christmas card.

Takeyuki Bando, a Japanese student of the English Language Institute at Syracuse University, normally spends his Ōmisoka, New Years Eve in Japanese, at a Shinto shrine in Tokyo. He goes there with his family to pray and celebrate the New Year, participating in a ceremony called Hastsumode, the first visit to a shrine in the New Year. He says he always buys a written oracle, which is believed to predict your future and give you instructions for the New Year.

Bando said his family also eats boiled shrimps on the first day of the New Year for more luck. “The shrimp is like a circle, it looks like someone is really old … and has humpback, right? There is a saying in Japan that if people eat the shrimp, they will live for a long time.”



New Year is the most important holiday in Korea, and people normally celebrate for three days. Families gather together and dress up in traditional clothes called hanbok, a gown with wide and long sleeves worn with belts and traditional headwear. The clothing was popular during the 16th century to protect against tough cold weather.

Korean New Year is a family holiday, and the elders and ancestors are highly respected in Korean society. People normally offer food and drinks to the spirits of their passed relatives on that day. Younger generation will make she bae, a deep bow with head on the floor, to the elders in the family to thank them.

“When we were kids, during the New Year, our parents always gave us money, wrapped with paper as gifts,” said Jieney Kim, an economics graduate student from Seoul, South Korea. They normally eat duo gook, traditional rice cake soup with beef, seaweed, eggs and soy sauce. White sliced rice cakes represent purity and represent the wish for a fresh start in the coming year, Kim said.

Also, older people have a funny saying for kids on New Years Eve about not sleeping in: “If you sleep, your eyebrows will turn white.”



To Columbians, New Years is the most joyful day, full of music, dances, food and laughter. Colombia is a country rich in customs, especially in rural areas.  Each family hosts a party at home to be immersed in happiness all day long. One of the most popular of many Columbian traditions is that people eat grapes when the clock strikes 12 at midnight. People eat one grape and make one wish each time the clock strikes. After that, people hug everyone and give the best wishes for the New Year.

Also on New Years Day, people prefer to wear yellow underwear and think it will bring them luck. People who expect to travel a lot go out and walk around blocks with suitcases because it will ensure they travel in the New Year.

“There are families who made a big rag doll, as big as a regular person, full of fireworks. This doll represents the year we are leaving behind, and by midnight they burn it,” said Lina Camargo, an environmental studies graduate student from Bucaramanga, Columbia. “I remember that this last tradition was very popular when I was a child, even in urban areas, but nowadays fireworks are forbidden, therefore people don’t do it anymore.”

People eat a large variety of different foods, depending on the region in which they live.  They often eat a kind of soup, called ajiaco, which is a thick soup made of corn, yellow potato, chicken and herbs. It is a typical food for Spanish people and native people from the Andean Zone in Columbia, said Camargo. They also eat buñuelos, a type of small fried cheese balls, or natilla, a sweet like pudding made of corn, cinnamon and raisins.

“I think that our celebrations are more festive than Americans. We love to dance until dawn. I think that we are more likely to share this festivities with our family members, and Americans with their friends,” said Camargo. This year, she will celebrate a Colombian styled New Year with her family in Florida, where they can find a lot of traditional Columbian food and ingredients.

“You are supposed to celebrate the New Year with your whole family. And the family from my mother’s side is closely tied and each year maybe 50 or 70 of us celebrate it together,” said Monica Moreno, an ecology Ph.D student from Tunja, Columbia.



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