It’s time to get (and keep) your party hat on!
Wherever you are in the world, ringing in the New Year is one of the more fun occasions of the year: full of festive cheer, friends, family, and special food and booze, plus the odd well-meaning but rarely-kept resolution. Only thing is, it’s over too quickly and then you have to wait for another entire year before you can do it all again. Or do you? As long as you’re willing to travel a little—or a lot—you can celebrate the beginning of a New Year nearly all year round. Here are some of the best global New Year’s celebrations.
The Gregorian New Year (December/January)
You probably already know this, but: Celebrated between December 31 and January 1, our Gregorian Calendar New Year is the best-known New Year’s party. Around the globe, starting off with New Zealand, at midnight fireworks are launched, champagne glasses clink, kisses are exchanged, and hopeful resolutions are made. In the U.S., people watch the Times Square ball drop, probably mostly unaware that dropping a ball to accurately set time is a tradition dating back to Greenwich, UK, in 1833. In some countries, such as Germany and France, New Year’s Eve is called Silvester/Silvestre, and while in France people indulge in oysters and exchange small presents, in Germany the future is arguably less glamorously predicted—lead is poured into cold water and a debate ensues on a meaning behind the resulting shape.
Makar Sankranti (January)
Makar Sankranti, “Makar” meaning Capricorn and “Sakranti” meaning transition, is a Hindu festival celebrated in mid-January of each year. It celebrates the end of the winter solstice and the start of the longer days and is dedicated to the goddess Surya. Each region in India celebrates the festival slightly differently, with traditions involving bathing in the confluence of the River Ganges and River Yamuna, to lighting sesame oil lamps in the Punjab; from women in Rajasthan giving presents to 13 other married women, to cooking—and eating—special sweets. The evening sees bonfires being lit and flying kites is high on the list of the next day’s activities.
The Chinese New Year (January/ February)
WHERE: Worldwide, but Primarily China
For one of the most auspiciously celebrated New Year festivals head to China for the Chinese Year, which is usually celebrated at the end of January or the beginning of February; you don’t even have to travel far, as most large cities around the globe celebrate it. Each year of the lunar calendar is named after one of 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, 2020 being the Year of the Rat, and 2021 the Year of the Ox.
Red is a color that signifies luck in China and is reflected in everything from the red envelopes filled with money given to children, to decorations and lanterns and prayer strips which are put on front doors to ward off evil spirits. Festivities are loud and full of music and fireworks intended to scare off the old year’s evil. It’s all celebrated while munching some lucky foods, such as fish for prosperity; dumplings, spring rolls, and a few others for wealth; rice balls for increased family togetherness; and longevity noodles for happiness and, you guessed it, longevity.
Nyepi, the Day of Silence (March)
In Bali, Nyepi, the Day of Silence, is usually celebrated in March and is then followed by New Year’s Day, with celebrations lasting for around three days. To start off, huge effigies of monsters are burnt after parading them through the streets, and houses are cleaned. Then silence falls over the island. Nobody goes outside, and no driving or leisure activities are allowed on this day of meditation, fasting, and introspection. The entire island practically shuts down; lights are kept low, the airport stays closed, and only emergency vehicles are allowed on the road. The following day (New Year’s Day), sees gatherings of families, religious ceremonies, and a return to normal, noisy, daily life.
Hindu New Year (March/April)
WHERE: Primarily India
The Hindu New Year is a slippery one, as there are many different dates. Each depends on the different regions in India, but they all more or less fall within March or April. For regions following the solar calendar, the dates tend to be fixed around April 13, but for those following the lunar calendar, they vary depending on the appearance of the moon. The celebrations are just as varied, but most enjoy plenty of fun, preparing and eating special dishes with family and friends, while the Bengali New Year is also an auspicious date to get married—two birds with one stone, as they say!
Theravada is a branch of Buddhism, which celebrates its New Year for three days following the first full moon in April as the Songkran festival. During these three days, Thailand and the other Buddhist Theravadin countries put on their party shoes. But in this case, better make it waterproof flip-flops, as water plays an important role in these celebrations: it starts with Buddha statues being washed with scented water, children cleansing their parents’ hands, and then everybody goes out in the street and throws water over each other in a great show of merriment. There is also a tradition of building sand mounts by monasteries and on beaches, each grain of sand representing a bad mark against karma waiting to be washed away.
Mayan New Year (July)
WHERE: In Parts of Mexico & Central America
Following the Haab Calendar, the Mayan year runs from around mid-July each year and is calculated using a series of 17 cycles, involving the moon, the sun, and the planets. Not unlike the Chinese calendar, each year or phase has a symbolic character dedicated to it. To celebrate, house entrances are painted blue, and kitchen implements, pottery, and mats are destroyed and replaced for the start of the New Year. You also get to wear a new hat and participate in a mix of ancient and modern traditions, such as playing ball games and lighting bonfires.
Nowruz / Parsi New Year (March/August)
WHERE: Iran and India
Narwuz, as it’s known in Iran and is practiced in March, and Parsi, as it’s called in India and is observed in August, is celebrated by Zoroastrians. Founded by prophet Zarathustra, it’s one of the oldest monotheistic religions still being practiced, dating back around 3,500 years. Celebrations for the New Year generally begin with cleaning the house, wearing new clothes, and decorating the house with fresh flowers, particularly hyacinth and tulips for those celebrating in March (whereas in India, doorways are decorated with jasmine and roses). Friends and family visit temples to pray and celebrate together with special meals.
Islamic New Year (August)
The Islamic New Year is celebrated as per the Hijri calendar and, as such, changes every year by around 11 days (but currently it falls within and around August). The Islamic New Year is a much quieter affair than the festivals of Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha. But as New Year’s Day is the first day of one of the holiest months of the calendar, Muharram, the day starts off with morning prayers in the local mosque. The rest of the day is usually spent with family and friends. Often the minarets of the mosques are decorated with green twinkle lights, marking the start of the year, and, depending on the branch of Islam, there might be special remembrance parades and pilgrimages to holy shrines.
Rosh Hashana (September/October)
The two-day Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, celebrates the creation of the universe and is believed to be when God created Adam and Eve. There are two days of symbolic celebrations with family and friends, where prayers are made near naturally flowing water and symbolic food is eaten; apples and honey represent a ”sweet New Year” and round bread symbolizes the cycle of the year. But it’s also a time for reflection, as the New Year is the start of 10 days of repentance for sins committed the previous year, culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Gujarati New Year (October)
The Gujarati New Year follows hot on the heels of Diwali, the several-days long Festival of Lights. It is a time for celebrations, letting go of the past (with its mistakes and sorrows), and looking forward to a new start. It’s party and festival time–time for indulging in good food, giving prayers and vegetarian food offerings to Lord Krishna, and generally keeping the party that started with Diwali going strong.
Celtic New Year (October)
WHERE: Ireland & the UK
The Celtic New Year begins with Samhain, celebrated on and around October 31, and the historic tradition has survived and morphed into our Halloween. It is the transition between the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, and bonfires are lit to scare off evil spirits. In the old days, it was believed that you should stay indoors at night, as fairies were supposed to roam around outside on New Year’s Eve and Pagan gods would become visible and play tricks on their worshippers. A belief that has likely influenced our trick-or-treat tradition and scary costumes.