New Year Traditions Around the World

Words by Lydia Armstrong

The end of 2020 was well overdue, with New Year’s Eve marking the end of a truly challenging year. As COVID restrictions remained firmly in place across the globe, 2021’s New Year celebrations looked very different, with many of us toasting to the year ahead from the sofa and on zoom.  

For many cultures around the world, New Year celebrations are a little bit more than a bottle of prosecco and a kiss at midnight. Let’s take a look at some of these unique traditions and how people did their best to welcome a more hopeful 2021!


For Italians, New Year’s Eve is a major affair, centred around family and LOTS of food. One of the most important traditions involves the cenone, a big dinner celebrated with family and friends. Each family is likely to have their own traditional dish, but cotechino (a pork dish), prosecco and lentils are a staple of most tables, as eating lentils at midnight is believed to bring luck and riches for the new year. Wearing red underpants is also thought to bring luck too!

“New Years Eve in Italy is a fundamental part of the year, it’s something we see as a rebirth. We have toasts with champagne and prosecco every five minutes. However, due to the pandemic, these celebrations will be completely different. I think it will be celebrated in small families because we can’t go out after 10pm. Thankfully, one thing we won’t be missing out on is the food, it will be our only joy this year!” Lucrezia Manassero 


Not only is December 31 New Years Eve in Brazil, but also the Festa de Iemanjà! A spiritual festival celebrating the goddess of the sea. Iemanjà, believed to be protector of the oceans, attracts millions of people to the beaches to show their thanks, offering white flowers to the waves. Rio’s Copacabana beach is where the party’s at, with enormous firework shows and celebrations lasting until sunrise. 

“We have a lot of different traditions for New Years in Brazil! We wear white clothes to bring peace. You can also wear red if you wish for love in the year to come or yellow to bring prosperity and money. We throw flowers in the ocean and also jump ten waves at the beach to bring luck. Its popular to eat grapes here too. I was going to spend New Year’s Eve on the beach, but unfortunately me and my family now prefer to stay at home due to the increasing COVID cases. I’m sure we’ll find a way to celebrate it… but at home.” Bruna Américo 


Scots take new year’s celebrations seriously and have their fair share of quirky traditions! The beginning of the new year is known as Hogmanay, and involves toasting the bells with whiskey at midnight, singing “Auld Lang Syne” and the ancient Gaelic custom of first-footing. The first person or first footer to step over the door frame after midnight, bearing a lump of coal, is believed to bring good fortune for the year ahead.

“I live on the Scottish island of Coll and everyone has big parties here for Hogmanay. We’ll usually have three or four families here with everyone, having dinner, drinking, toasting the bells at midnight, then first footing. We have a tradition which involves carrying the oldest person on a chair out of the room and bringing the youngest in, signifying out with the old and in with the new. On Coll, we also have an island shinty contest. It’s a Scottish hockey variant, but a little more brutal. We have an east vs west competition every year and it’s a great way of getting everyone together.” Dougie Wainwright


Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is China’s biggest annual festival and celebrated by a sixth of the world’s population.  Based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar, following the movement of the moon and the sun, New Year falls on a different date every year as well as being assigned a zodiac animal. This year, Chinese New Year falls on 12 February 2021 and it’s the year of the Ox! During this time, the colour red, thought to bring good fortune, can be seen everywhere, from the red envelopes given to children, lanterns and red paper decorations lining windows and doors. 

We usually prepare for New Year two weeks early. The eating customs are quite different from region to region, but we all have a big reunion dinner with our family. A whole braised fish is definitely the main course on our dinner table. At the end of the dinner, we light firecrackers with our family, give money in red paper envelopes to children, and stay up until midnight for the bells. Thoroughly cleaning our house and emptying the bins is also very important. We think that is a symbol of sweeping away ill-fortune and unhappy memories, making way for coming good luck.” Emilly Li

It’s the most important time to us. We are expected to be home and to celebrate the festival with our families. I haven’t been home for the holidays in four years. I spent the first three years making dumplings with my friends and video calling home. This year I will probably choose to celebrate with my family by video again.” Yiji Zhang