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International New Year’s Day Traditions

By Nicole at Accredited Language
Posted on Monday, January 4, 2010
Category: Holidays, Languages, Languages

Scene of firecrackers at a Chinese New Year Celebration

Firecrackers at a Chinese New Year celebration, image by FlickrLickr.

Happy New Year from Accredited Language Services!

Although we in the US might celebrate the New Year with confetti and champagne, countries around the world have their own exciting and unique New Year’s Day traditions.

From feasts of watermelon or mochi to rollicking parades, celebrate the year ahead with these international New Year’s Day traditions!

China: Yuan Tan

The Chinese New Year, Yuan Tan, falls between Jan 21st and February 20th based on the lunar calendar. Popular New Year’s Day traditions include processions and floats that bring luck and happiness. Many feature a chain of dancers in a dragon costume, symbolizing longevity and wealth.

Other common New Year’s Day traditions to ward off evil spirits include setting off firecrackers and covering windows with paper. Popular gifts of tangerines and kumquats are commonly given in pairs, since odd numbers are unlucky.

Germany: Silvester

Named for the night of St. Silvester, German New Year’s Eve features a tradition known as Bleigiessen. After lead is melted and hardened in cold water, celebrants attempt to foretell the happenings of the next year from the resulting shapes.

New Year’s Day traditions involve toasting friends and saying “Prosit Neujahr” (“Happy New Year”)! Guests leave a little food on their plates uneaten until after midnight; this New Year’s Day tradition is meant to ensure times of plenty in the year ahead.

Iran: Nowruz

Many citizens of Iran observe Nowruz (“New Day” in Persian) on the first day of Spring, in accordance with the Muslim faith. According to New Year’s Day tradition, a cannon sounds on the first minute of the new year.

Families decorate houses with wheat, barley, and lentils to reflect growth in the New Year, and feast on sabzi polo mahi, a dish with fish, rice and green herbs. In a New Year’s Day tradition, children receive a gold coin, or “aidi,” from their adult relatives, for good fortune in the upcoming year.

Japan: Gantan

Gantan is the first day of the three-day Japanese New Year’s celebration, Shougatsu. The New Year’s Day tradition begins with 108 bell chimes to ring out the past year’s hardships.

A popular New Year’s Day tradition is to make sticky rice cakes, or mochi. Boiled rice is mashed into a dumpling and eaten during Shougatsu. “Firsts” are also important to New Year’s celebrations, especially seeing “hatsuhinode” (“first sunrise”) and “hatsumode” (“first temple visit”).

Scotland: Hogmanay

Hogmanay, named after an oat cake typically given as a New Year’s Day tradition, begins on New Year’s Eve with the construction of an “Auld Wife,” a figure to represent death. The figure is paraded around town in this Scottish celebration and then destroyed, signaling that the new year can come to take its place.

Scotland also has a meal that is its New Year’s Day tradition, which includes shortbread, scones, hogmanay and whiskey. The first person to wake up delivers “het pint,” spiced beer, to the others in bed.

Thailand: Songkran

The meaning of the name Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit translation for “astrological passage.” Between April 13th and April 15th, the Thai people celebrate New Year traditions by washing themselves in perfumed water, to represent a fresh start, and release birds from their cages.

Friends also celebrate the New Year by tying a string around each others’ wrists while saying a blessing. The strings, a New Year’s Day tradition, are worn until they fall off.

Vietnam: Tet Nguyen Dan

Commonly known as Tet, the Vietnamese New Year’s Day traditions occur after the harvest and before seeds are planted. Since the name means “Feast of the First Morning” in the Vietnamese language, food is prominently featured. Families take the time to visit relatives and temples, and to eat “bahn tet,” a rice pudding with mung beans and pork.

Lucky items for this New Year’s Day tradition include watermelon — for its lucky red color — and bamboo trees decorated with bells and streamers to ward off evil spirits. Celebrants also make an effort to stay positive during Tet — a New Year’s Day tradition meant to be indicative of the rest of the year!

Want to see more international holiday traditions? Check out our list of Halloween traditions around the world!

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