Fun Facts About New Year's Traditions and Celebrations

Dec 28, 2018

New Year's Eve

While champagne toasts, fireworks, championship football games and more have come to define the New Year’s tradition in the U.S., the diverse forms the holiday takes in cultures throughout the world may provide some inspiration for those looking to branch out in their festivities. Even if your preferred way to ring in 2019 is on your couch clad in your comfiest sweats, we thought you might appreciate a few interesting facts about the holiday:

It likely started as a spring tradition: The first New Year’s rituals that we know to have occurred were celebrated in March around 2,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. The ancient people who inhabited the region marked the new year during the first new moon after the vernal equinox, when the days and nights were of equal length. Other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Persians and Phoenicians first celebrated it in fall, and the early Roman calendar named March 1 as the start of the new year. In the present day, many cultures now use the Gregorian calendar to mark the new year on January 1.

Where the most popular New Year’s celebrations are: In 2013, International Business Times listed Las Vegas, Disney World and New York City as the top places to ring in the New Year in the U.S., and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia as one of the biggest celebrations internationally. As of 2014, Rio de Janeiro holds one of the largest outdoor New Year’s celebrations in the world. On New Year’s Eve, roughly 2 million gather for Réveillon on Copacabana Beach.

The crystal ball is only one of many items dropped New Year’s Eve: Communities throughout the U.S. have found plenty of ways to make the New Year’s tradition unique, and this includes expanding the concept of dropping unusual items beyond the iconic crystal ball in Times Square. Just a few of these include an elaborate Pineapple Drop that heralds the New Year in Sarasota, Florida, a brilliantly lit olive that descends from Price Tower to a giant martini glass at midnight in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and the ever-popular giant Peach Drop in Atlanta. One tradition that those in Brasstown, North Carolina will have to skip this year: the annual New Year’s Eve Possum Drop, which has called it quits after numerous protests and lawsuits.

Food is imbued with meaning:  Central to almost any celebration is cuisine, but on New Year’s Eve and Day it often symbolizes intentions for the coming year. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us, eating any circle-shaped item (e.g. a doughnut) represents good fortune in various traditions as conveys coming full circle. This might include Oliebollen in the Netherlands or Krapfen (also Berliner) in Germany. In Spain and in the Philippines, auspicious foods might include grapes. In fact, people in Spain and certain Latin American countries attempt to stuff grapes into their mouths at each chime of the clock when it strikes midnight for good luck. In an extension of this round object theme, people in the Philippines also wear polka dots and throw coins for prosperity.

In Jewish traditions, apples dipped in honey are typical Rosh Hashanah fare that originated among Ashkenazi Jews in medieval Europe. As The Jewish Week explains, the sage Maharil described this tradition as rich with mystical meaning back in the 14th-century Germany. And in Estonia, the point is to eat seven, nine or 12 times on New Year’s Day for abundance in food throughout the year. But as Business Insider points out, nowadays people can fulfill this custom with a seven-course feast instead.

Smashing and tossing items around is also a popular theme: Prosperity and good luck evidently go hand-in-hand with throwing and breaking things, as a number of cultures throughout the world demonstrate. Celebrants in Armenia toss pomegranates on the ground for good fortune. In Denmark, people smash China and drop it onto other people’s front doors as a gesture of friendship as well as a good luck ritual. Many locals in Brazil throw white flowers and candles into the ocean as an offering to the pagan Afro-Brazilian goddess of the Sea, while in Stonehaven, Scotland, people (i.e., trained professionals) wield large fireballs and launch them into the ocean. In Johannesburg, a New Year’s ritual once included throwing old furniture and appliances out the window in order to purge old problems, although crackdowns by authorities in recent years have largely discontinued the practice.

Has all the New Year’s brouhaha got you hankering for a mellow way to enjoy the holiday? You may want to check out “9 Alternative Ways To Celebrate New Year’s Eve in 2019” from BuzzFeed News. If budget is your main concern, you can also find plenty of happenings around the Bay Area at FunCheapSF.

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