12 Extraordinary Ways Countries Around the World Ring In the New Year
Like any other year, 2014 had its highs and lows. Many states made strides in LGBT rights, the first U.S. city passed a soda tax, the world took a significant step to fight climate change, and the giant Galápagos tortoise made a comeback. It was also the year that Ebola wreaked havoc on much of West Africa, GamerGate spotlighted sexism in video games, and poaching continued to ravage wildlife.
No matter what took place, people across the world can be counted on to ring in the New Year with glimmering optimism. Here, we list 12 ways countries do just that.
1. Japan: Ringing It In
According to Buddhist belief, humans are born with 108 types of desires that torment them on earth. To usher in the New Year with a clean slate, temples all over Japan toll their bells 108 times at midnight as people listen at home eating bowls of noodles. Another way the Japanese start over: In Ashikaga, a city 50 miles north of Tokyo, locals hike a mountain road to a temple, where they scream cathartic curses into the night.
2. Ecuador: Burning Dummies
According to some accounts, a yellow fever epidemic that struck the city of Guayaquil in 1895 had people stuffing coffins with the clothes of those who passed and burning them as a symbol of purification. With the same concept, people across Ecuador today take to the streets on New Year’s Eve to set in flame elaborately painted effigies of pop culture icons and politicians as a way to “cleanse” the past.
3. Colombia: Grab the Suitcase
Itchy feet? Colombians feeling some serious wanderlust run around the block with suitcases in hand in hopes of getting to travel in the New Year.
4. Spain: Guzzling Grapes
Want 12 lucky months ahead? At the stroke of midnight, when the clock tower in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol rings the first bell, each Spaniard starts gobbling down a dozen grapes before the 12th chime strikes. Some say the tradition started as a marketing ploy by grape growers in 1909; others think Madrid’s bourgeoisie in the 1880s just wanted to be like the French, who had grapes and champagne on the last day of the year.
5. South Africa: Flying Fridges
Expect few pedestrians in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, on New Year’s Eve, when locals have the terrifying habit of throwing old microwaves, fridges, couches, and other appliances and furniture out the windows of their high-rises. Police officers on duty brace themselves every year—they’re often the victims. The origin of the tradition remains unclear.
6. Greece: Hang an Onion on It
On New Year’s Eve, families across Greece adorn their doors with a big, bulbous onion—a symbol of birth and growth. A parent typically takes it down the next morning and wakes up the kids by tapping them on the head with it.
7. Scotland: Skol, Vikings!
Hogmanay, which means the last day of the year for Scots, is a three-day event that starts on Dec. 30 and involves pipes, drums, and a procession of thousands of people dressed as Vikings carrying torches. It’s been described as “absolutely magical.”
8. Switzerland: Do a Dollop
To attract good luck and abundance for the new year, the Swiss eat whipped cream and pour a dollop on the floor, where it stays for the rest of the year.
9. The Philippines: Polka Dots for Good Luck
In the Philippines, anything round is believed to bring fortune. So on New Year’s Eve, Filipinos wear polka dot clothing, keep coins in their pockets, and eat round foods.
10. Denmark: Smashing Plates
How do you tell if you’ve got a lot of friends? The Danes just have to look at their stoop on Jan. 1. People throw dishes and other crockery at their neighbors’ doors on New Year’s Eve. More broken plates mean more loyal mates.
11. Brazil: Offerings to a Goddess
In Rio de Janeiro, thousands of people toss white flowers into the ocean along with floating candles as an offering to lemanjá, or the Queen of the Ocean. It’s believed that she rules the waves and grants wishes to those who participate. Many Brazilians place their offerings in toy boats because if the offerings come back, it means that the goddess rejected the request.
12. United States: Possum Drop
What ball drop? In Brasstown, N.C., locals count down the New Year in anticipation of “The Possum Drop.” A cage containing the eponymous marsupial is slowly lowered down and set free at the stroke of midnight. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has not been happy about it.