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How Communities Celebrate New Year’s Day

How Communities Celebrate New Year’s Day

New Yorkers welcome the New Year in Time Square with fireworks, confetti, and a street party.
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New Year’s Day is a famous public holiday that is celebrated globally. It is usually observed on January 1, although many festivities begin on December 31. The period is characterized by a flurry of activities, including customs meant to bring good fortune and riches to participants. The New Year is also a good time for people to ponder the achievements and the failures of the old year while resolving to improve their lives. We hope the coming year will be kinder to us despite our challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A generous dose of sanity would also do!


The History Behind New Year’s Day

You may be shocked that New Year’s has a long, ancient history. The idea of celebrating the holiday was instituted in Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C. when the Babylonians held festivities to honor the day during the vernal equinox (towards the end of March). During this period, they participated in an 11-day religious festival, Akitu, featuring a special ceremony each day. As they marked Akitu, the Babylonians celebrated the defeat of the wicked sea goddess Tiamat by Marduk, the sky god. At the same time, they crowned a new king or allowed the old ruler to renew his spiritual obligation.


Why Do We Celebrate New Year’s in January Today?

Since we are used to celebrating New Year’s in January, many might find it odd that the holiday was marked on a different month. The festival’s date only changed to January 1 in 46 B.C.,    following the creation of the solar-based Julian calendar by Julius Caesar. This change was also made in reverence to Janus— the Roman god of beginnings who was mythically two-faced. The deity could see the past and the future simultaneously. To mark this newly-dated festival, Romans offered sacrifices to Janus. They also engaged in other merry-making activities like holding parties, gifting each other, and adorning their houses with laurel branches.


New Year’s Traditions Across the World

The New Year’s holiday has led to the emergence of numerous cultures worldwide as people adopt various styles of celebrating the day. Each is unique, and as we examine how different countries celebrate the day, you’ll be taken aback by the vast cultural diversity. Let’s get right to it!

Brazilians celebrate this holiday by going to the beach. One exciting tradition they perform at this time is diving in the sea’s seven waves just after midnight and making seven wishes. This practice started as a way of worshiping the goddess of water, Yemanja. People jump into the ocean while dressed in white to symbolize purity. This kind of dressing is also believed to keep evil spirits at bay. For Spaniards, the New Year festivity isn’t complete without munching 12 grapes, representing every strike of the clock. The tradition can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, supposedly driving off evil while increasing the participant’s chances of enjoying a prosperous year. However, there’s a twist to the practice. Only those who eat all the grapes within seconds by the time the clock strikes midnight are the ones believed will have luck in the coming 12 months.

Residents in Denmark welcome the New Year in style by jumping from the furniture. As such, they usually climb a chair as the year is coming to an end and jump off of it at midnight. According to the Danes, this act brings luck in the New Year. Another ritual common in Denmark is throwing glasses and plates against the doors of loved ones to cast out evil spirits. Meanwhile, did you know Russians note down their wishes on a piece of paper on New Year’s Eve and light them on fire? The wisher later mixes the ashes with Champagne and drinks it. This ritual is based on the idea that the universe opens at midnight when the clock strikes the last 12 beats of the old year. So, people can ask higher powers to fulfill their desires. That’s why you must drink all the champagne before the clock completes all the beats. The participant is thought to be motivated to attain their goal in the coming year after successfully completing this ritual.

Instead of raising a glass to health, wealth, and love like many Westerners, people in Chile will consume three spoons of lentils. The first represents love, while the second and third are for health and wealth, respectively. Those who hope to find the love of their life in the coming year will wear yellow underwear as the New Year approaches.

Do you want to be a Millionaire in the Chilean style? Put a coin in your shoe before midnight, hoping it will increase the following year. Among the many rituals Americans carry out on New Year’s Day, dropping the ball stands out. In essence, many people sit around their televisions (or Times Square streets) to watch a giant ball drop at midnight every year. The event was invented in 1907 mainly to bring attention to the new headquarters of the Times. It has been part of the New Year’s Eve celebrations since then. This festivity is also featured through fireworks. Even though this custom started in some countries to expel evil spirits and misfortunes, fireworks in the US have changed, separate from any spirituality.


Other Common Customs

Whether you celebrate in California, Copenhagen, Moscow, Cape Town, or any other part of the globe, New Year’s festivities follow almost the same script: lavish parties, enjoying meals together, spending time with family, etc.


Attending Parties

Being a fun holiday, most countries and cities worldwide hold parties to mark the New Year. Hotels, clubs, bars, and other entertainment joints organize explicit (expensive) bashes during the holiday. Tickets are usually sold out within a few days of being advertised, indicating that  people are eager to end the year in a cheerful mood. Others prefer to have bashes in their homes, away from strangers.


A Time for Family

New Year’s Day is one of the many holidays that unite loved ones. After spending many months apart, most families gather to catch up, bond, reconnect, have quality time, and have fun. During this period, various families engage in different activities. While some cook together, others exchange gifts, watch movies, participate in games, or go on an adventure. The list is endless. What traditions do your immediate family members and distant relatives enjoy doing? Do you usually look forward to New Year’s Day to perform these activities with your loved ones?



These celebrations present a good opportunity for people to enjoy various dishes. Since pigs signify progress and affluence in specific communities, pork is the leading food served in countries like Austria and Portugal on New Year’s Eve. Mexicans, Greeks, and the Dutch end the festivity by eating round-shaped pastries and cakes, indicating that the year has completed a full circle. Folks in the Southern United States consume cornbread, black-eyed peas, leafy greens, and ham on New Year’s Day, hoping to attract good luck in the next 12 months.


New Year’s Eve Countdown

What would a New Year’s Eve festivity look like without a countdown? It wouldn’t feel complete. Right? The 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 custom to welcome another year mainly became a thing in the twentieth century. Previously, countdowns were linked to bad stuff before the 1970s. During the 1950s, countdowns were perceived as apocalyptic since they were mainly mentioned as scientists dropped bombs when conducting atomic bomb tests.


Lighting up the Sky with Fireworks

Illustration from 19th century New Year fireworks.
Illustration from the 19th century.

The custom of kicking off the New Year with a bang has been around for a while. For instance, shooting guns in the American colonies were standard. Ringing church bells, blowing noise horns, and shouting “Happy New Year” are some of the practices familiar today. Those who prefer to celebrate the holiday at home usually invent ways of generating noise at the stroke of midnight. They may run outside banging pots and pans or opt to pop up balloons.


The New Year- A Symbol of Hope

Come to think of it, a majority of the customs mentioned above embody hope. Whether it’s throwing glasses and plates, diving into the sea, eating grapes, or drinking champagne, one thing is clear— people are optimistic that the New Year will bring them good tidings. It’s also not uncommon for people to perform religious rituals anticipating receiving divine help in the coming year. For Christians worldwide, this entails flocking to churches on New Year’s Eve to express their gratitude to God and pray for a better future. Hindus also visit their temples to pray for a blessed year and listen to the annual calendar as priests forecast the next year.

As an individual, you may have noticed that you are filled with hope in the build-up to the New Year. Do you ever wonder why? It’s hard not to feel enthusiastic about the future when we are part of communities that engage in different New Year’s rituals. These customs are contagious, and you may have participated in at least one. They charge the atmosphere with great expectations causing people to enter January confidently. As you bid the old year goodbye, you desire to leave behind all the bad experiences and embrace the good things the world has to offer.


Here Come the New Year’s Resolutions

You might be surprised to learn that this habit didn’t begin recently; just like the New Year’s celebrations, the making of resolutions originated from ancient Babylonians. At the time, they used to make promises to attract favor from their gods and positively begin the year. As such, they would vow to settle their debts and return the borrowed farm equipment. The Romans started every year by making vows to their god Janus.

In the Middle Ages, people made New Year’s resolutions as well. Knights would reaffirm their commitment to chivalry by touching a live or roasted peacock. After each year, they would make a “Peacock Vow,” promising to uphold their knighthood principles. Early Christians mainly focused on pondering the mistakes they had committed in the past and deciding to improve their behavior in the future. The Covenant Renewal Service was often conducted the day before the New Year and was invented in the eighteenth century. During this time, Christians would gather in the church, sing hymns together, and have the bible read to them by the clergy.

Fast forward to the 21st century, people are still making New Year’s resolutions. But unlike in the past, where the keys were made collectively and somewhat religious, the pledge is mainly secular and personal today. It entails an individual deciding to focus on improving themselves. In doing so, they resolve to change destructive behaviors, adopt good practices, or pursue a specific goal as the year starts. Some examples of the resolutions people nowadays make include eating healthy, losing weight, traveling more, getting a life partner, quitting smoking, learning a new skill, and more.

Are New Year’s Resolutions Necessary?

How often do you vow to do something and you don’t? Have you told yourself you will cut down on the fast food you eat, only to discover you can’t resist those fries or the spicy crispy chicken sandwich? You are not alone. Making resolutions at the dawn of another year can help. Picture this, if you set a goal to not eat junk food on weekdays for a month or more, you’ll be surprised at how strong-willed you will become. Letting your loved ones know your personal goal will also give you the support and motivation you need to achieve it.

Resolutions can provide you with stability. They will enable you to dictate your life’s direction so you can make the correct decisions. As such, you will be more focused and determined to attain a successful life. Do you dream of supporting a charitable cause or positively impacting society? Setting New Year’s resolutions can assist you in becoming who you want to be. It will provide you with much-needed guidance, allowing you to identify opportunities that will enable you to make a difference in the world.

When did you last reflect on your life? More often than not, people rush through daily life without stopping to think about their actions’ impact. As we approach a new year, resolutions allow you to mull over the past, present, and future. As a result, you can figure out what’s working and the changes you must make to have a better life. Notably, resolutions usually serve as catalysts for positive change. When you realize your routine, relationships, or personal health isn’t working, change it.


How to Make New Year’s Resolutions and Keep Them

Do you often experience challenges making practical resolutions at the beginning of each new year? Do you need help to follow through on your goals? Follow the steps below while creating resolutions for this coming year to ensure you successfully fulfill them this time around:

Select One Thing to Focus On

Don’t be tempted to address undesirable habits all at once. You will be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, start by identifying a single area that needs to change. Then, write a goal that will guide you through implementing the change. For instance, if your resolution is about your weight, your plan might read like this: “To lose 5kgs by the end of January.” It’s advisable to note how you will achieve this. Some viable strategies include jogging daily, adopting healthy dietary behaviors, visiting the gym, etc.  If you manage to reduce weight, you can set another target after 30 days.


Contrary to what many people think, formulating a New Year’s resolution isn’t that easy. So, planning ahead is important to ensure you have the knowledge and resources required to execute the change. There are several approaches you can use to make preparations. If you want to eat healthier, quit smoking, or take up yoga, collect books that will help you learn about the subject of your interest. You are free to use the Internet as well.  Depending on your situation, You can also schedule an appointment with a gym/yoga instructor, dietician, or doctor.

Don’t Pressure Yourself

Remember, you didn’t become a smoker, spendthrift, or obese overnight; it took time. Similarly, adopting good behavior is a process. While you may succeed in changing some habits within weeks, others (especially addictions) may take months or years. The key is to be persistent even when you fail. You can always start afresh and carry on your journey of improving your lifestyle.

Identify a Date

Select a date when you want to begin making the changes. But ensure it’s not past February. If you wait too long, you will lose any enthusiasm you might have had when you resolved. Once you have identified the ideal period, ensure you start making the changes then; don’t postpone.

Have a Support System and Motivate Yourself

Try finding a loved one who shares similar values or goals as you and work together. They will motivate you to keep going even amid challenges. Having company also makes executing your resolution fun too. Though you might be charged up to attain your goal during the first days, don’t be surprised if the enthusiasm diminishes with time. This is after you face the reality of jogging at 6 a.m. daily or experiencing throbbing headaches resulting from nicotine withdrawal. When such moments come, remember exactly why you committed to fulfilling your goal and what you will gain after the whole process.

Track Your Progress

As you continue to act on your resolution, please make sure you record the different milestones you have achieved. For instance, if you choose to work on your eating habits, note the number of times you ate a healthy meal in a week. Noting such things will help determine whether you are on the right track. Then you can make the necessary adjustments and increase your chances of success.

Reward Yourself

Be sure to reward yourself when you reach an important milestone (like reducing your weight by 5kg). Examples of rewards include a trip to the cinema, taking a siesta, going for an adventure, or whatever makes you tick. As a result, you will be encouraged to keep going even during the most challenging periods.

Different countries mark New Year’s Day in style, performing distinctive rituals mainly borrowed from their ancestors. The customs are interesting and filled with hope for a better and grander future. However, no matter what part of the world you are in, you have probably taken part in one or more of these common traditions: eating particular foods, attending a party, making noise, spending time with family, watching fireworks shows or countdowns. Currently, New Year’s celebrations aren’t complete without resolutions. This practice gives people purpose and the confidence to face uncertainties that come with a new period. Follow the recommendations above when making resolutions for the coming year, and you will surely succeed.



Edited by Michael Moss

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