For whatever reason — be it the universal recogniton of the passage of time, or the fundamental human urge to party — virtually every culture on Earth observes the arrival of the New Year in some capacity.
First, it bears mention that not everyone celebrates the coming of the New Year in the final hours of December. For example, the Islamic New Year generally occurs 10 days prior to the Western holiday, while members of the Russian Orthodox Church celebrate the New Year in the second or third week of January. In September or October, Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year — kicks off a 10-day observance that culminates in Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The people of Iran ring in the New Year on March 21. And while Chinese, Korean and other Asian peoples observe the Lunar New Year (typically between mid-January and mid-February), the popularity of Western New Year’s festivities has led to widespread adoption of both holidays.
Fireworks are a common factor for New Year celebrations across the globe, and the most outlandish displays are typically associated with major landmarks. These include Times Square, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, Red Square and the Sydney Opera House. In the absence of unique installations like these, really tall buildings work just fine. Kuala Lumpur’s Patronas Towers, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Taipei 101 (Taiwan’s largest building) are some of the sizable structures sharing the spotlight with colorful New Year’s Eve fireworks displays.
While the appeal of fireworks is universal (as well it should be), there are other notable traditions associated with the New Year’s holiday. Many residents of Spain Latin America, for instance, celebrate by eating a dozen grapes — one for each chime of the midnight hour, symbolizing 12 wishes for the coming year. Japanese Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times at midnight to symbolize the elements of bonō, or unhealthy attitudes that lead to moral transgression. In Filipino culture, circles are considered lucky symbols that bring wealth and prosperity, and a bevy of circle-shaped food items are served accordingly. Welsh citizens exchange gifts, typically bread and cheese, with their friends and relatives. And while Christmas is not typically celebrated in Turkey, many of that country’s citizens customarily decorate a large tree with ornaments in honor of the New Year.
Then, there are the parties. If you thought your buddy’s kegger was wild, make a trek to the Indian city of Goa, where you’ll be joined by millions of other people — and several members of the Bollywood elite — for a massive street festival that is rumored to be the world’s largest New Year’s bash. Brazilians hold massive feasts, complete with plenty of champagne, to mark the beginning of summer (wait… oh riiiiight). Singapore’s Marina Bay neighborhood is home to an annual gathering that attracts a quarter million people every year. And if the local party scene seems relatively low-key in Iceland, it may be because everyone is crowded around the television set; an annual New Year’s Eve comedy variety show, Áramótaskaupið, has been a household tradition for nearly 30 years — and its Dec. 31 viewership ratings are among the highest in the world.
While scientists work to determine who parties ‘hardest’, there can be no doubt who parties first: the people Kiribati, whose island nation lies within closer proximity to the International Date Line than any other country. While these island inhabitants are banging pots and pans to ring in the New Year, most Americans are still fast asleep.
However and wherever you plan to celebrate this year, have a happy New Year from all of us at Pacsafe!
By Brad Nehring