New Year's Around the World

In this two-part article, we'll explore how several different cultures from around the world celebrate the New Year and reflect on the meaning behind these celebrations.

By Justina Thompson — January 23, 2024


New Year's Around the World

As the year comes to a close, cultures around the world celebrate the beginning of a new year in their unique ways. While some countries celebrate New Year's Day on January 1st like we do in the West, others follow lunar calendars and observe the holiday at different times throughout the year. In this two-part article, we'll explore how several different cultures from around the world celebrate the New Year and reflect on the meaning behind these celebrations.

While American and European cultures commercialize the January 1st New Year, it is far from the only New Year's celebration that takes place. The January 1st New Year is called the Gregorian New Year. This New Year is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582 as a reform of the Julian Calendar. Prior to this, the Julian Calendar had been used in many parts of Europe and elsewhere since its introduction by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. However, over time, the Julian Calendar had become less accurate in calculating the length of the solar year, resulting in discrepancies between the calendar year and the astronomical year. The introduction of the Gregorian Calendar aimed to correct this error by altering the number of leap years, and thus more accurately aligning the calendar with the solar year.

The new calendar was first adopted by Catholic countries, including Portugal, Spain, and Italy, but was gradually adopted by other European countries as well throughout Western colonization efforts. However, some countries such as Britain and its colonies, including the United States, did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until much later. Britain, for example, adopted the calendar in 1752, while the United States did so in 1752, when it switched over from the Julian Calendar.

Yet, not all cultures celebrate or recognize the Gregorian New Year. This article uplifts some of the incredible New Year's traditions — their unique histories — happening in the U.S. and worldwide.

Chinese New Year

In China, the New Year is celebrated on the first new moon of the lunar calendar, usually in late January or early February. The holiday, also known as Spring Festival, lasts for fifteen days and is marked by fireworks, dragon parades, and traditional family gatherings. Each New Year is associated with a zodiac animal, and 2022 will be the year of the tiger. During the celebrations, it is customary to give red envelopes filled with money to children and young adults to bring good luck in the upcoming year.

Ethiopian New Year

Ethiopian New Year, also known as Enkutatash, falls on September 11th and marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring. Families celebrate the holiday with traditional feasts and colorful processions. A unique tradition during Enkutatash is the burning of bundles of dry leaves and twigs, which is said to symbolize the end of the old year and the coming of the new.

Jewish New Year

The Jewish New Year, known as Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated in late September or early October. The holiday marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, a ten-day period of introspection and repentance leading up to Yom Kippur. During Rosh Hashanah, families gather for festive meals and attend services at the synagogue. Special foods like apples dipped in honey symbolize the hope for a sweet new year.

Thai New Year

Thai New Year, also known as Songkran, is celebrated in mid-April and coincides with the traditional Thai New Year. The three-day holiday is marked by water festivals and friendly water fights. The throwing of water is said to symbolize the washing away of bad luck and negativity, making way for a fresh start in the upcoming year.

Persian New Year

Persian New Year, also known as Norooz, is celebrated on the spring equinox in late March. The holiday is known for its traditions of spring cleaning, gift-giving, and family gatherings. The centerpiece of the celebration is the Haft-Seen table, which is adorned with seven items that begin with the Persian letter "sin." Each item symbolizes a different aspect of life, such as patience, health, and prosperity.

Indigenous New Year - Spring Equinox

Many Indigenous cultures around the world celebrate the New Year during the spring equinox in March. For example, the Navajo Nation celebrates the arrival of spring with a nine-day celebration called the Blessingway, which marks the beginning of the planting season. In Peru, the Inca Empire celebrated the New Year during the Inti Raymi festival, which honors the sun god. The festival features processions, music, and dance performances that pay homage to the natural world.

Other Indigenous cultures celebrate the New Year with ceremonies that focus on cleansing, renewal, and connection to the earth. For the Cherokee people in the United States, the New Year is celebrated during the Cherokee New Moon Ceremony, which takes place in autumn and involves ritualistic cleansing and offerings to the spirits. In Australia, the Ngangkari people celebrate the New Year during the Ngaran Ngaran ceremony, which honors the ancestral spirits and involves dance and song performances.

Russian New Year

While January 1st is a public holiday in Russia, it is not the main New Year celebration. Russians celebrate their New Year on January 14th, a date that follows the Julian calendar. The holiday traditions include a ceremonial tree decorated with candles and ovazharka, a porridge made of cranberries, grains, and honey. It is also customary to listen to the clock chime 12 times, which symbolizes good luck and hope for the future.

Korean New Year

Korean New Year, or Seollal, is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which usually falls between late January and mid-February. It is a time for families to reunite and to honor their ancestors by performing ancestral rites and sharing traditional foods such as tteokguk, a rice cake soup. The holiday is also a time to reflect on the past year and to set new goals for the upcoming year.

Persian New Year

Persian New Year, also known as Norooz, is celebrated on the spring equinox in late March. The holiday is known for its traditions of spring cleaning, gift-giving, and family gatherings. The centerpiece of the celebration is the Haft-Seen table, which is adorned with seven items that begin with the Persian letter "sin." Each item symbolizes a different aspect of life, such as patience, health, and prosperity.

In addition to the Haft-Seen table, people celebrate the Persian New Year by adopting a number of other customs. One example is the practice of "chaharshanbeh soori," a festival that takes place on the last Wednesday of the Persian year. During this festival, people light bonfires on streets and jump over the flames, a tradition believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. Another popular activity is the exchange of gifts, particularly among children, who receive new clothes, toys, and sweets. The Persian New Year is a time for people to come together with loved ones, reflect on the past, and make positive resolutions for the future.

Scottish New Year

In Scotland, the New Year is called Hogmanay, and it is celebrated with a variety of traditions that have roots in Norse and Gaelic traditions. In Edinburgh, the main festivities include a torchlight procession and a massive street party. A popular Scottish New Year's tradition is first-footing, where the first person to enter someone's home after midnight brings a gift, usually in the form of food or drink.

Cambodian New Year

Cambodian New Year, or Choul Chnam Thmey, is celebrated in mid-April and coincides with the end of the harvest season. The holiday is marked by water ceremonies, where statues of the Buddha are washed with water to symbolize the cleansing of bad luck and to usher in fresh energy for the upcoming year. The celebrations include traditional dance performances, games, and feasts.

Mexican New Year

In Mexico, the New Year is celebrated with traditions that reflect the country's blend of indigenous, Spanish, and Catholic cultural influences. Mexicans celebrate New Year's Eve with fireworks and the eating of grapes, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight. It is also customary to sweep the house with brooms to get rid of old energy and bad luck.

Another sacred tradition during the Mexican New Year is the making of tamales. Tamales are a traditional dish made from masa, a dough made of cornmeal, and filled with savory or sweet ingredients like chicken, beef, cheese, or fruit. The tamales are then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. The making of tamales is a communal activity, with friends and family coming together to prepare and share the dish.

In addition to these traditions, many Mexicans also celebrate the New Year by attending midnight mass and participating in the "Cena de Año Nuevo," a late-night feast. This feast typically includes traditional dishes like pozole, a hearty stew made from hominy and pork, and bacalao, a salted cod dish.

Overall, the Mexican New Year is a time for celebration, reflection, and spending time with loved ones. Whether it's through the eating of grapes, the sweeping of the house, or the making and sharing of tamales, these customs reflect the rich cultural heritage of Mexico and its people.

Vietnamese New Year

Vietnamese New Year or Tet Nguyen Dan, is celebrated in late January or early February and is based on the lunar calendar. Families decorate their homes with flowers and prepare traditional foods like sticky rice cakes. The holiday includes many traditions such as house cleaning, ancestor worship, and the giving of lucky red envelopes.

Indian New Year

The New Year in India is celebrated in different ways depending on the region and religion. In the Hindu calendar, New Year's Day, or Puthandu, is celebrated in mid-April and is marked with the cleaning of homes, the wearing of new clothes, and the eating of sweet treats. Other New Year celebrations in India include Rosh Hashanah for the Jewish community, Baisakhi for the Sikh community, and Gudi Padwa for the Marathi community.

While New Year's celebrations around the world differ in many ways, they all have one thing in common: they are a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. Regardless of where we come from, we can all share in the hope and promise of a new year and the opportunities it brings. So, no matter how you choose to celebrate New Year's, remember to take a moment to appreciate the ways in which our diverse cultures enrich our world. By learning about the New Year's traditions of different cultures, we can gain a deeper appreciation for our interconnectedness and the beauty of our shared human experience.

Justina Thompson

Justina Thompson

Justina "Farmer J" Thompson is the Farm Education and Volunteer Manager at Urban Creators, Philadelphia, PA. Justina intentionally attended school in Philadelphia so she could “connect her passion and experience to the ongoing environmental justice work in the area.” As a speaker, educational curriculum designer, program leader, and community organizer, Justina possesses extensive knowledge on urban farming inspired to work in the field of environmental justice from a young age.
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