A Brief Travel to the New Year’s Eve Traditions of Four Different Countries

Katelyn Folmer

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For more than a century, Americans have celebrated New Year’s Eve with the annual dropping of an almost 12,000-pound illuminated ball in Times Square, New York City. The tradition started in 20th-century New York when Jacob Starr constructed a 700-pound ball to be lowered. With a diameter twice the size of Starr’s, weighing 11,875 pounds, and engulfed in thousands of lights, this tradition seems natural for Americans to celebrate the holiday today. With Resolutions that few keep throughout the year, and friends and families gathered until the early morning to watch this New Year’s Eve spectacle, the holiday remains tattooed in American culture.

New Year’s Eve Barcelona, Spain

After the ball drops on television, there are camera shots of many fireworks that occurred before ours. What exactly are the traditions of these distant countries and how similar are their celebrations to ours?

Russia:

In Russia, there are two New Years that are celebrated: the “Old” New Year (January 14th) and the “New” New Year (December 31st). The “Old” New Year is celebrated with generally a small gathering of family and friends as well as a large meal. It is interesting to note that this New Year is not recognized as an official holiday; workers do not have the day off. The “New” New Year is an official holiday where people tend to participate within their community. On December 31st, Russians celebrate the coming (“New”) New Year with a feast including delicious Russian dishes that lasts well into the morning. They also celebrate with fireworks and some performances from famous Russian pop stars. Five minutes to midnight the president will air a speech to the nation, addressing his hopes next year and the achievements of last year. It is overall a happy blessing to the Russian people before the year begins and a message of ideal progress.

In Italy, the New Year is ushered in with a feast (called “cenone”) that includes foods that represent qualities of the next twelve months. For example, eating lentils and raisins will symbolize wealth and luck in the new year. In Southern Italy, it is common to throw out unwanted items (like clothes, pots, furniture, etc.) out of the window to prepare and get rid of the past year. It was a sort of “cleaning out” to make room for the new excitement. Italians also celebrate with fireworks and tons of music. All around the country in places like Florence, Rome, Rimini, Milan, and Naples there are plazas filled with different types of music. Some cities host popular musical performances, with rappers and pop artists.

Others showcase classical musicians, operatic singers, and even marching bands. Most of these performances are free to the public while some of them benefit charity organizations. In general, there will be a lot of noise and music on New Year’s Eve. Italy is a very diverse country with many unique traditions specific to the city, but overall Italians love to have a good time as they welcome the new year.

Ireland:

The Irish have a large feast that lasts many hours, while they leave a place for the deceased members of the family. An open table setting and unlocked doors make it easy for the loved one’s spirit to visit on this special night emphasizing family. It is also a tradition to hit a piece of “Christmas bread” on the walls of your home to scare the evil spirits away and prevent bad luck from harming a happy year. Like the Italians, Irish people also attempt to get rid of the past year by making a clean slate. They often clean their homes inside and out. As well as receiving gifts on Christmas, it is common in Ireland to give family and friends gifts on New Year’s Eve. Another holiday must call for more happy gifts! It is also a tradition to open the back door of your house before midnight, again to lead all the bad luck out of your newly cleaned house. In Dublin, there are many musical performances and street parties to increase the celebration of the new year, but pubs will be exciting…It is Ireland after all.

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New Year’s Eve Dublin

Japan:

In Japan, families are encouraged to spend time together and eat foods that are traditionally eaten while celebrating the holiday. For example, Toshikoshi soba, soup with noodles and unique toppings, is eaten specifically on New Year’s Eve to symbolize your wish to have a long life in the new year. More recently it is common to the watch the most popular type of music, J-pop and enka on television before midnight. There are also many fireworks that illuminate the sky when the new year arrives! Traditionally it is common to give gifts, cards, and even money to family and friends. After a long night, it is rewarding to watch the first sunrise of the year, and tradition dictates that January 1st is representative of the whole new year. Because of this, Japanese people are encouraged to keep the day as happy and stress-free as possible. Shrines will also be crowded during this holiday as many families visit to pray for a healthy and joyful year.

The New Year is a time to be happy, eat scrumptious dishes with family and friends, and be hopeful towards the next 12 months. People across the globe partake in much of the same activities that make New Year’s Eve special. While you watch the ball drop, think of the Russians who just listened to their president speak, or to the Irish who just finished banging bread on a wall, or to the Italians who are enjoying numerous musical performances, or to the Japanese who wait to watch the first sunrise of the year. No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a happy New Year!

Fun Facts:

~In Russia, Christmas is traditionally celebrated after December 31st!

~In Ireland, the first person to enter the home after midnight should be a dark-haired male, as a red-haired female brought bad luck.

~“Oíche Chinn Bliana” is “New Year’s Eve” in Irish

~In Japan, the longevity of life is represented