12.29.2016 by Susan Dawson O'Brien

Three. Two. One. Happy New Year!

Around the world, party-goers will chant these words just seconds before the clock strikes 12 a.m. on Jan. 1 under skies filled with fireworks. But there are many lesser-known New Year’s traditions, both old and new, that involve things like house cleaning, molten lead, and even…underwear? Here’s a brief look at a few of these traditions, starting with one of the first countries to ring in 2017.


“New Year’s is the most important traditional holiday celebrated in Japan,” writes Taeko Shiota on asiasociety.org. Japan’s indigenous religion, Shinto, calls for a top-to-bottom house cleaning to welcome toshigami (a New Year god). Also, food was prepared ahead of time, because the “New Year’s god is not to be disturbed by the sounds of cooking for the first three days of the New Year.”

Then, on the evening of Dec. 31, the family would “eat a bowl of buckwheat noodles called toshikoshisoba (‘year-crossing noodles’) and listen for the sound of the Buddhist temple bells, which were rung 108 times at midnight. The sound of these bells is said to purify the listeners of the 108 sins or evil passions that plague every human being.” Other families visit local shrines to pray and learn of New Year’s fortunes.

Spending time with family, eating rice cakes, and reading post cards that arrive on Jan. 1 round out Japanese celebrations.


As a means to celebrate a year of hard work, and to wish others a New Year filled with luck and prosperity, the Chinese rest and relax with family, according to the travel website chinahighlights.com. But unlike in the United States and many other countries, their celebration does not start on Jan. 1; the Chinese calendar begins on Jan. 28 this year. (Watch for a future blog nearer to the Chinese New Year for more details!)


In major cities, formal balls celebrating New Year’s Eve began with an elegant court dance called a polonaise, according to sonsofpoland.org. Meanwhile, pranks often filled the countryside. “It was not unusual for the village jokers to disassemble somebody’s wagon and reassemble it on the roof of a house, or to smear windows and doorknobs with tar. … All tricks are forgiven, however, for they are believed to be the ousting of the old passing year.”

Special Polish proverbs focus on good fortune: “Wake up early on New Year’s Day, wake up early for the rest of the year;” “Touch the floor with the right foot when getting out of bed, expect a lot of good luck for the whole year;” and “To get rich, put coins in a small bag and run through the fields shaking the bag, making a lot of noise.”


In the past, many southern Italians took letting go of the past quite literally; according to the website walksofitaly.com, they threw items like cookware, furniture, and clothing out their windows on New Year’s Eve. While few today practice this act, some clothing is said to bring good luck: red underwear.

To ward off evil spirits, some light a Yule log, while others throw firecrackers to make noise and scare them away. Wealth in the New Year is a goal of many, so foods like rice and sliced sausage symbolize coins, and they are eaten in abundance.


New Year’s Eve is referred to as Silvester, named after a pope who died on Dec. 31, 335 A.D. Of the country’s many holiday traditions, one of the most unique activities is bleigiessen, or lead pouring, according to a 2016 article on www.army.mil. “Melted lead is poured into a bowl of cold water, and the participants try to read their future in the shape of the cooled lump of lead.” According to 123newyear.com, “Heart shapes symbolize marriage, whereas round shapes denote good luck; anchor shapes tell that you need help, however a cross signifies someone’s sad demise.”

Revelers also drink feuerzangenbowle, a spicy red wine punch that is set afire, and they eat from the buffet (for large gatherings) or enjoy fondue (for smaller parties), reports army.mil.

The motto, “The way you start the New Year, it’s going to go all year,” sets the tone for Germans; it is advised to pay off debts and avoid new ones, as well as to take laundry off clothes lines to avoid back luck. For good luck, gifts bearing the symbols of pigs, clover and chimney sweeps are popular.


Broken dishes are a sign of popularity in this country. According to 123newyear.com, people save pieces of their damaged dinnerware all year then toss it at the front doors of friends’ houses on New Year’s Eve. The doorways with the most dinnerware belong to those with the greatest number of admiring friends.


Holiday greeting cards in France target the New Year, rather than Christmas, according to frenchtraveler.com. Good wishes are shared throughout the month, as are gifts of money to those who provide regular services, such as mail carriers, apartment concierges, and firefighters. Called étrennes, January is considered to be the workers’ “13th month, and the French tend to be quite generous,” the website reports.


To symbolize peace and renewal, some Brazilians wear all-white clothing which, according to riotimesonline.com, reflects “a certain kind of hope that the New Year will be better than the one that has just passed.”

New Year’s Eve is often spent on the beach where, after watching fireworks displays, “Brazilians run to where the sea meets the sand and skip seven waves so that Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea, will open up paths in their life. The trick here is to be careful and not to turn away from the ocean after the skipping, otherwise the goddess will be angry. With each skip, one wish must be made.”

To bring good luck and enlightenment, it is traditional to light candles and throw flowers into the ocean.


Among the country’s many traditions on New Year’s Eve, according to theyucatantimes.com, the most famous involves grapes. Revelers place a bowl containing 12 grapes at each family member’s place at the dining table; at each chime of the clock at midnight, one grape is eaten, and a wish can be made. Other traditions include sweeping the house, inside out, before midnight, to “remove negative energies in the house and allow the entry of ‘good waves’ and new energy,” the Yucatan Times writes.

Underwear makes an appearance in Mexican New Year’s tradition, too, especially with the younger crowd. “The last day of the year, you must wear brand new yellow lingerie or underwear if you want to attract money and prosperity during the coming year. On the other hand, if what’s missing is love and happiness, your underwear must be red.”

Want good luck in the New Year? Carry lentils in your pockets or purse. Want to travel in the New Year? “Some people walk seven times in circles carrying a suitcase inside the room. Others, instead, take a walk around the block carrying the suitcase.”

No matter in what country, or with which tradition, may the New Year bring you good fortune and happiness!