In Britain, many of us welcome the new year with the simplest of celebrations: alcohol, fireworks and a great big clock. But for much of the rest of the world, the final minutes of 2013 and the first few of 2014 were an occasion to mark with something a little more exotic. From smashed plates to swiftly eaten grapes, these are some of the more unusual alternatives to singing “Auld Lang Syne” out of tune.
Abuse your kitchen utensils
The first big country to see in 2014, for New Zealand the celebration comes in the depths of summer. While the big cities naturally staged fireworks displays, out in the sticks people resorted to a more modest form of New Year’s Eve noisemaking – namely, standing on their front porches banging their pots and pans together. To some cultures making a racket at midnight is a way to drive off evil spirits. For most Kiwis, however, it is simply an end in itself.
Ring in the new year – 108 times
In Japan, New Year’s Eve – or “Omisoka” – is time to welcome the Shinto god of the new year, Toshigami. Observers display traditional new year decorations such as kadomatsu (typically made from bamboo) and shimenawa (rice straw rope). At midnight, at each of the country’s Buddhist temples, a bell would have been rung – not 12 times, but 108 times, to dispel a long list of unwanted mental states, such as anger and jealousy. Whereas most people think of working on New Year’s Day as mere bad form, the Japanese consider it bad luck.
Drink a wish
New Year’s Eve took on a particular significance for Russians under Communist rule during the 20th century, when religious holidays, including Christmas, were banned. The New Year proved to be a suitable non-religious substitute for the forbidden seasonal celebration – and its popularity has continued beyond the fall of the Soviet Union. One midnight tradition in Russia is to write your new year’s wish on a scrap of paper, set it alight and drop the smouldering remains into your champagne glass – and then drink the lot before 12.01am.
Abuse your crockery
Many cultures see New Year’s Eve as a time to celebrate and catch up with friends and family, but few do so in quite such an aggressive manner as the Danes. In Denmark, it is traditional to keep your chipped and unwanted items of crockery, and then smash them against the front doors of your chums on the last night of the year. It’s a measure of your popularity to find a heap of broken china on the doorstep at midnight – which presumably comes as some comfort while you’re clearing it up.
New Year's celebrations around the world
New Year's celebrations around the world
London staged what was billed as 'the world's first multi-sensory fireworks display', when flavoured snow and scented bubbles descended on revellers
The London Eye is illuminated by fireworks as 2014 arrives
Fireworks explode over Edinburgh Castle during the Hogmanay street party celebrations
Indonesian people set up fireworks to celebrate 2014 New Years
Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images
Fireworks explode near Malaysia's landmark Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur during the New Year 2014 celebrations
6/23 New Zealand
Fireworks explode over the heads of tourists and locals as the clock hits midnight to celebrate the New Year on the waterfront in the New Zealand town of Queenstown
Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images
7/23 North Korea
Fireworks explode over Juche Tower and the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea to celebrate the New Year
Kim Kwang Hyon/AP
8/23 South Korea
Buddhists light candles during New Year's Eve celebrations at Bongeun Buddhist temple in Seoul
Performers at the New Year's eve Winter Carnival in Newcastle city centre
10/23 Hong Kong
Fireworks explode over Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong
Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images
Indian sports players from the Madan Mohan Malviya Stadium light candles during an event to welcome the New Year in Allahabad on December 31, 2013
Fireworks explode from Taiwan's tallest skyscraper, the Taipei 101 during New Year celebrations
New Year's Fireworks on Sydney Harbour at Mrs Macquarie's Chair in Sydney, Australia
People dressed in traditional costumes play drums during a performance to celebrate the new year at the Great wall in Beijing
Shinto priests walk under a 'torii' (Japanese gate located at the entrance of a Shinto shrine) after they participated to a shinto ritual in preparation for the New Year at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo
16/23 The Netherlands
An explosion during a carbide shooting, a Dutch New Year's Eve tradition to scare off evil spirits, in Aarle-Rixtel
Lanterns are released into the sky for the 2014 New Year on December 31, 2013 in Bintan Island, Indonesia
Yuli Seperi/Getty Images
Fireworks light up the sky as Filipinos welcome the New Year, Wednesday Jan .1, 2014 in Manila. Traditionally, Filipinos welcome the New Year with fireworks and firecrackers and making the loudest noise possible, including indiscriminate firing of their guns which sometimes result in injuries and deaths
Pyrotechnic show company 'Group F' performs with fireworks in the Vieux Port (Old Port) of Marseille, southern France, on December 31, 2013, as part of New Year celebrations on the last day of the Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture
Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
Fireworks explode in the sky during New Year celebrations in Moscow's Red Square
21/23 United Arab Emirates
Fireworks explode over Palm Jumeirah in Dubai on January 1, 2014 to celebrate the new year. Dubai kicked off New Year with a dazzling bid for a new world record to cap those the Gulf city state already holds for its mammoth property developments. The glittering fireworks display that lasted around six minutes spanned over 60 miles of the Dubai coast
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images
22/23 United Arab Emirates
Fireworks explode in the sky over Dubai
Fireworks over Edinburgh to celebrate the New Year's Eve Edinburgh Hogmanay street party, Scotland
The Spanish always stock up on grapes before New Year’s Eve, so they can eat one on each of the 12 chimes at midnight – not as easy as it sounds. The grape-munching is a 20th-century invention, started by Alicante’s grape farmers in 1909 as a way to dispose profitably of the surplus grapes from that year’s unexpectedly large harvest. Last night the 12-grape custom was observed by almost everyone in Spain – as well as by new year’s revellers in several Spanish-speaking South American countries.
Give a gift of coal
Scotland is famous for a long list of “Hogmanay” traditions, from dancing a reel to swinging a fireball around one’s head. First-footing is the simple feat of being the first to enter the home of a friend or family member after the stroke of midnight, carrying a gift of whisky, bread, a coin – or a lump of coal. A similar custom is observed in several other countries, including England. In some areas, the first-foot is a welcome omen only if the visitor is tall, dark and male. Women and blond men are thought of as unlucky.
The wonderfully named Bahamian festival Junkanoo takes place across the islands on both Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, beginning at 2am and continuing until long after dawn. Revellers in Nassau and elsewhere welcome the new year with a vibrant, noisy parade, which is thought to have originated in the 16th or 17th century, when slaves were allowed to leave the plantations to celebrate Christmas with traditional African music and dancing.
Hit the beach
In Rio de Janeiro, millions of people saw in 2014 on Copacabana Beach and its lesser-known neighbours, Ipanema and Leblon. Brazil’s new year revellers often wear white to ward off unfriendly spirits, and they gather by the shore to make offerings to Iemanjá, who, according to the local Umbanda religion, is the Goddess of the Sea. Her worshippers launch thousands of tiny boats loaded with flowers and other gifts. Others jump seven waves for good luck – one for each day of the week.
Light a firecracker
In Suriname, the standard New Year’s Eve firework displays are augmented by long, red, firecracker ribbons known as “pagaras”, which each of the big shops in the capital, Paramaribo, puts on display in the days leading up to the celebration. The ribbons are then tied together into one epic string of small explosives which runs through the centre of the city. Its lighting on New Year’s Eve is guaranteed to draw a crowd of thousands.
Watch something drop
In New York’s Times Square, a six-foot ball spent the final minute of 2013 sinking down a 77-foot flagpole. The tradition began after the city’s 1904 new year fireworks display rained hot ash down on the crowds, leading to a ban on fireworks. Today the ball-drop is such a recognised feature of the American new year that it is replicated around the US. In Eastport, Maine, for example, an eight-foot sardine is lowered from a window at the stroke of midnight, while in Key West, Florida, a drag queen called Sushi is lowered from a balcony inside a giant, red, high-heeled shoe.