11 of the Most Obscure New Year Traditions Around the World

From singing the Auld Lang Syne to a fireworks display or a new year’s kiss, US traditions to welcome in a brand new year can seem somewhat reserved compared to other countries across the world. 

While Christmas and Thanksgiving are the most favoured festive celebrations in the US, many countries across the world anticipate the New Year’s Eve celebrations much more highly and even spend much more time and effort planning them. 

Huw Owen, co-founder at TravelLocal, comments: “It’s fair to say that US New Year’s Eve traditions are pretty low-key compared to many countries. 

“From throwing old furniture out of the window in Naples to dancing in a bear costume in Romania, these traditions go back hundreds of years and are still very much alive and kicking today.” 

TravelLocal has revealed some of the lesser-known, obscure New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world, which really do put our fireworks displays in the US to shame. 

1. Burning effigies in Ecuador

Ecuadorians like to burn effigies (a model or statue that has been created, usually out of protest) of famous politicians, celebrities, and other people associated with the previous 12 months. At midnight, they believe this will bring good luck for the next year and will help to leave behind any negative energies. 

The ritual is known as “Los años viejos” (the old years) and is a cause for celebration. While elsewhere on the streets, people dressed as the “widows” of the burned effigies ask passing traffic for money. While it is lighthearted, it is best to carry change if you’re spending time in Ecuador over the new year. 

2. Tossing old furniture out of the window in Naples 

Neapolitans like to go one step further when it comes to the mantra of “out with the old and in with the new” at the new year. 

Throwing out your old possessions symbolises that you are ready to embrace the fresh year ahead. 

Naples residents have reportedly thrown everything from toasters to fridges from their balconies, so packing a helmet could be a good idea if you’re visiting on 31st December. 

3. Eating 12 grapes at midnight in Spain 

This tradition dates back to 1909, when there was a grape harvest so big that the King, Alfonso XIII, decided to give out the surplus to the masses to consume on New Year’s Eve. 

The ritual is to eat one grape with each of the 12 chimes of the clock in order to secure 12 months of health and happiness. 

4. Breaking a plate in Denmark 

If you need to get rid of a chipped plate, it might be a good idea to save it until New Year’s Eve in Denmark and throw it at your friend’s door. 

It is thought that the more broken plates you discover outside your door, the more good luck you will have in the forthcoming year and the more friends you will have. 

5. Throwing white flowers into the ocean in Brazil 

This tradition is seen as an offering to the goddess of the sea, Yemanja. Locals carry out this custom, hoping she will grant their wishes for the following year. 

Brazillians dress in white and throw white flowers and candles into the ocean. Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro is a popular spot to witness this traditional practice. 

6. Dressing up as a bear in Romania 

In one of the most seemingly bizarre new year traditions across the world, in Romania, locals dress up in bear skins (these are now usually fake) and parade through the streets. 

The festival known as “Ursul” is said to be a pre-Christian ritual that is still practised today. It is believed that spotting a bear in your backyard in Romania signifies good luck and wards off evil spirits. 

7. Sprinkling salt on the doorstep and wearing red underwear in Turkey 

In Turkey, people sprinkle salt outside their doors at midnight, which is believed to bring peace and prosperity into their homes for the year ahead. 

For even more good luck, locals are said to buy and wear new red underwear on New Year’s Eve. Red is widely regarded as the colour of luck and good fortune in many cultures, so this colour underwear is worn to welcome in a new and fortunate year. 

8. Sitting under a table, if you’re single in Argentina, Chile, or Venezuela 

In many Latin American countries, it is traditional for single people to crawl under a table at midnight in order to be blessed with good luck in finding love in the new year. Who needs Tinder? 

Singles stand in line as if they are about to catch a wedding bouquet, dancing and then crawling on their hands and knees from one end of the table to another. Couples cheer them on and then adorn them with kisses, hugging, and laughing. 

9. Going for a freezing cold dip in fancy dress in Edinburgh 

On New Year’s Day, thousands of Scots throw on fancy dresses and go for a swim in the freezing Firth of Forth at South Queensferry in Edinburgh. 

The tradition, known as the “Loony Dook”, has taken place since the 1980s but only recently became part of the famous Hogmanay programme officially.

10. Melting lead in Germany 

In Germany, it’s customary to heat small pieces of lead, then cast them in cold water and make a prediction for the year based on the shapes that are formed. 

For example, if a ball forms, luck will roll your way. These days, kits throughout German-speaking countries include tin (rather than lead) figurines to melt.

11. Bell ringing in Japan

Every year at midnight on 31st December, 108 bells ring out all over Japan. In a practice called Joya-no-Kane, the bells are rung from Buddhist temples across the country. The 108 chimes represent the “earthly temptations” in the Buddhist faith. 

The tradition is still very much alive today, and if you’re there, you can watch the bells toll on TV or hear them on the radio.