New Year Celebrations Around the World

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

New Year celebrations are a time of reflection on the past, and anticipation of the future. However, not all nations celebrate the New Year at the same time or in the same way. In this lesson, we will take a look at how the New Year is celebrated around the world.

The History of Auld Lang Syne

The song Auld Lang Syne is a song associated with New Year's celebrations in many cultures and nations, but not many people actually know what it means. Scottish in origin, it's been around since the 1700's, when it was composed by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Ironically, it was not composed to be a song associated with New Year's celebrations. Rather, the lyrics of the song are about not forgetting friends and making sure you remember them in the future. The title Auld Lang Syne translates into 'times gone by.' It did not become associated with New Year until it was accidentally performed by Guy Lombardo right after the clock struck midnight on a New Year's Eve in the late 1920's.

New Year Celebrations

Celebrating the New Year

Typically traditional New Year celebrations involve people saying goodbye to the events of the year past, and welcoming a new year that holds much promise. Think about how you and your family ring in the New Year. Do you have a party or have a nice meal? Cultural ways and traditions play a big part in how and when the New Year is celebrated. Traditions, or customs that are passed down from generation to generation, range from writing New Years letters to cracking open the bubbly, to watching elaborate displays of fireworks. Let's take a look at how New Year is celebrated in different cultures around the world.

New Year in the United States

Times Square
Times Square

When we think about how we celebrate New Year's Day in the United States, one of the first things that may come to mind is the world-famous ball-drop in New York's Times Square. Thousands gather every year to count down the final minutes of the old year, and welcome in the New Year in style. The event is televised live and followed by firework celebrations nationwide. Like many other nations, a New Year's kiss and a glass of champagne are typically in order.

New Year Around the World

Although many nations celebrate the arrival of a New Year in similar fashions, others have unique traditions. Let's take a look at some of those:

  • Belgium - located in the heart of Europe, Belgium celebrates New Year's Eve on December 31st as a tribute to Saint Sylvester, a Roman priest. Children write letters of promise to their parents detailing what they will do better in the coming year, while parents celebrate the moment in the company of family and friends while sipping champagne.

A Champagne Toast
New Years Champagne

  • Rosh Hashanah - this holiday is better known as the Jewish New Year, and it is based on the lunar rather than the Gregorian or Christian calendar. Typically celebrated in the month of September, Rosh Hashanah involves prayer and atonement. It's traditional during this time for Jews to dip apples in honey as it is believed that consuming sweet foods will bring a sweet year. In addition, the shofar (ram's horn) is blown as a sign of repentance and people cast off their sins by throwing bread into a body of water like a river.

Apples and Honey for Rosh Hashanah
Jewish tradition

  • Chinese New Year - this is a very important holiday for the Chinese people. It is determined according to the Chinese calendar and is celebrated on a different day each year. Family reunions and elaborate celebrations take place for an approximate two week period. Fireworks are used because folklore has it they will wake up a hibernating dragon.

Chinese New Year Celebration
Chinese New Year

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