Seven days after Christmas and the magic of the festive season slowly comes to an end. But never fear, there is still time to throw one last big party before packing up the Christmas tree and going back to work. This party is, of course, New Year’s Eve! But how do different countries celebrate the new year? And why on earth would you need a bowl of grapes, a pot of onion soup and a ridiculous amount of fireworks?
In Spain we have a tradition which is so deeply rooted that instead of tradition, it could be called a rule: grapes. It consists of eating 12 grapes with the first 12 chimes of the New Year, one per chime. After the last chime everyone congratulates each other on the new year with kisses and hugs. Almost every spaniard follows this tradition, no matter where or with whom. The chimes can be followed on every TV channel. This shapes the typical Spanish New Year’s Eve plan: first dinner with family or friends, after that the grapes, and finally partying, a party that usually ends with churros and chocolate (another tradition!). Although the grapes are the predominant traditions there are also others, like lighting fireworks the night of the 31st (especially in the south of Spain) or wearing red underwear on the night to start the new year with good luck.
The grape eating starts just after 1:00:
In Finland people like to either spend New Year’s Eve with their family or get together with friends. Drinking alcohol such as champagne during New Year’s is very common. As for food, sausages are a popular choice, since they are a bit different from what people usually eat at Christmas. Similarly to other Finnish celebrations, people usually go to the sauna in the evening and after that they go outside to watch fireworks. Every year the President holds a speech that people either go see live or watch on the TV. Some also go to see a concert or a play. Many make a New Year’s promise, wanting to do something great during the new year or make a change in their lives.
On New Year’s Eve, which in Germany we call Silvester, it is very common to have a big party at someone’s house, with lots of food and alcohol. Sometimes we make Feuerzangenbowle, which is hot red wine mixed with various spices (and sometimes juice). A rum-soaked sugarloaf is placed on tongs or a grill above it and set on fire, so that the caramelised sugar drips into the wine. It is also very common to do Bleigießen, where we melt little figures of lead over a flame and then pour it into cold water. The shapes created like that have to be interpreted to tell one’s fortune for the next year. Another tradition is watching “Dinner for One”, a British short film about an old lady’s birthday (which has nothing to do with New Year’s). At midnight, everybody goes outside and lights fireworks and firecrackers. If you have a wish for the new year, you can write it on the stick of a rocket before shooting it, and then it might come true.
Watch Dinner for One (with German introduction, English movie starts at 2:25):
In France, people tend to spend New Year’s eve with friends and stay awake all night, whereas Christmas eve is spent with family members only and presents are exchanged in the evening or in the morning. People get dressed in their most fancy clothes and go to a restaurant or to someone else’s house and eat and drink and dance all night until dawn. At midnight there is a countdown. Everyone kisses the person he/she likes the best and drinks a glass of champagne. At dawn, you usually eat a bowl of onion soup and then say goodbye to each other and go home. Children usually spend the night with their grandparents or are taken care of by well paid babysitters! People also set off fireworks in their gardens or in the street and honk if they happen to be driving at midnight.
Elinor, United Kingdom
In comparison to Germany or Spain, British traditions at New Year run a bit thin on the ground. Yes, we have a party and yes, we countdown into the New Year, whilst awkwardly standing next to the person we want to kiss, hoping they’ll kiss us back. But, outside of these rather generic formations, we have rather a free reign over what we do. Some of us choose to spend the evening watching Jools’ Annual Hootenanny, a live music show, which starts at eleven on BBC Two and provides a soundtrack to the New Year. The best bit about this show is watching the fake smiles on the faces of the celebrities reading out the countdown, knowing full well that the programme was filmed in August. On BBC One, on the other hand, we can watch the fireworks in London at Midnight. Here, millions of people on the Thames sing along to “Auld Lang Syne” and pretend they know the words. Actually, in terms of traditions, “Auld Lang Syne” is probably our most prominent; a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, we tend to try and sing it at midnight in order to bid farewell to the old year. In Scotland, where they do things a little differently, everyone usually joins hands with the person next to them whilst singing, forming a great circle around the dance floor.
London 2016 fireworks on BBC One:
In Italy, we usually celebrate New Year’s Eve by having the Cenone, which literally means “big dinner”: in fact, we usually have a huge dinner with many courses (the rule is to wait for midnight at the dining table, so the dinner should be veeeery long); the most traditional dish is cotechino, a charcuterie product similar to salami but has to be cooked, usually served with lentils, which are believed to bring good luck because of their coin-like shape. Italians too believe that wearing red lingerie will bring love and luck, but our strangest tradition was (fortunately it almost never happens anymore) to throw old stuff out of the window to celebrate the “new year, new life” philosophy. On the 1st of January people usually sleep and rest because of the hangover from the night before.