NEW YEAR’S FESTIVALS AROUND THE WORLD
New Year Celebration Around The World Some of the world’s New Year’s traditions have an air of seriousness about them. They’re tied up in ancient religious rituals. Official decrees have created them. Or maybe they involve impressively massive fires in public spaces. Regardless, it’s essential to recognize why we celebrate the New Year the way we do.
Scotland: Celebrating Hogmanay, which denotes the last day of the year, is a big deal in Scotland. So much so that it often overshadows Christmas. Christmas was outlawed by the Church of Scotland for nearly four centuries, until 1958. Though the holiday has regained its popularity, the New Year Festival of Hogmanay still holds a sacred place in Scottish hearts.
Australia: Sydney Harbour hosts one of the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. It’s mid-summer in the southern hemisphere, and thousands of people gathered around the Opera House in anticipation. An aerial show and water display kick off the celebration at 6 pm. A family-friendly fireworks show starts at 9 pm, while the main attraction– the Harbour Light Parade– is at midnight.
Belarus: In Belarus, New Year’s is included as a part of a 13-day festival known as Kaliady. Keady originates from the old pagan recognition of the winter solstice. It was only later that the Orthodox Christians added the celebration of Christmas (on January 7). Keady has conventional foods in three ritual dinners, trick-or-treating, caroling, and more.
Netherlands: Amsterdam hosts one of the world’s largest street parties on New Year’s Eve. If you attend, buy some oliebollen (oily balls) to eat at midnight. Tradition holds that eating these deep-fried dough balls will ward off evil spirits in the New Year. Dam Square (the craziest), Rembrandtplein, Nieuwmarkt, and Leidseplein host private street parties with music, fireworks and beer tents. Amsterdam’s celebration is not for the casual partier: Some attendees have likened it to a war zone!
United States: Each year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to New York City to see the Big Apple drop at midnight. This New Year’s Eve tradition began as a replacement for fireworks, which had been banned in New York. In addition to watching balls drop, in other US cities, you can watch peaches, giant walleye, and other locally relevant symbols lowered as the clock strikes midnight.
SHARED NEW YEAR’S EVE TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
And then there are the New Year’s traditions that are celebrated by people all around the world. These shared customs are part of what makes the New Year one of the planet’s most popular holidays. Here’s a look at some of the many traditions that transcend time zones, borders, and culture.
Singing “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight is done throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.
The traditional Scottish folk song was transcribed (not written) by beloved poet Robert Burns in 1783. The literal Auld Land Syne translation is “old long since,” which means, “days gone by.”
After that, it became a typical song of celebration—for weddings, graduations, funerals, etc.—throughout Scotland. In the nearly two and a half centuries since “Auld Lang Syne” has become the most popular New Year’s song in the world.
The tradition of singing it at midnight on New Year’s Eve was popularized by a Canadian band, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians. The group, which came from a part of Ontario settled by Scots, often covered the song, partially to promote one of the sponsors of their radio show, Robert Burns Cigars.
In 1928 the band got a chance to do a New Year’s Eve show and closed their set with “Auld Lang Syne.” It became the show’s closing number for nearly 50 years, the remainder of Lombardo’s life.
WHICH COUNTRY CELEBRATES NEW YEAR’S FIRST?
Despite the Gregorian calendar being globally recognized, many countries follow different timetables. So some cultures observe New Year’s on a different day! As weird as it may sound, there’s some debate as to which is the first country to celebrate the New Year.
India: While January first is indeed celebrated there, the New Year celebration in India has many different dates. Rongali Bihu is the most popular: It’s celebrated in mid-April, on the first day of the Hindu solar calendar. But the specific day of celebration changes from region to region.
Egypt: In Egypt, the New Year’s Day celebration changes according to the moon. But, unlike other countries that go the lunar route, here the festivities do not begin until a crescent moon is sighted!
Cambodia: Another country that celebrates a New Year in April, Cambodia has a 3-day long holiday that is dictated by the end of their harvest season. It follows the same lunar calendar as India, in which the New Year begins when the sun enters the sign of Aries.
Israel: The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana brings in the New Year in early autumn, as does the Islamic New Year (usually in late September). Many Orthodox Christians in Israel celebrate New Year’s on September first.
Bali: Many east Asian cultures use the lunar calendar to determine New Year’s Day. But some parts of Indonesia use a unique Saka Calendar, which puts the holiday on a different date than China’s lunar system. It’s typically more of a somber affair, mainly used as a day of rest rather than celebration.
Samoa: There are 39 time zones in the world. Based on the International Date Line, the islands of Samoa and Kiribati are the first places on Earth to reach the Gregorian calendar’s new year on January first.
As for the last country to celebrate the New Year? Though not technically a country, that would be the U.S. territories of Baker Island and Howland Island, two uninhabited wildlife refuges located about halfway between Hawaii and Australia.