New Year’s Eve traditions around the world

Ruth Griffiths

How do you celebrate the coming of the New Year? Perhaps you continue some of the traditions your family brought with you when you came to Canada. Test your knowledge of New Year’s traditions around the world.

  1. In Spain, what fruit is eaten at midnight on New Year’s Eve?
  2. In Scotland, Dec. 31 is called Hogmanay. One of the most famous tradition is first footing. What is first footing?
  3. The Dutch eat Oliebollen on New Year’s Eve. What are Oliebollen?
  4. In Estonia, people strive to eat a lucky number of meals on New Year’s Eve. Which numbers are most auspicious?
  5. In Brazil, what is thrown into the ocean on New Year’s Eve?
  6. What special clothing do Italians wear to ring in the new year?
  7. What do Greeks hang on their doors on New Year’s Eve?
  8. In Turkey, what do people sprinkle on their doorstep on New Year’s Eve.


  1. Spaniards eat one grape for each of the 12 bell strikes at midnight to bring about a year of good fortune and prosperity. The tradition dates back to the1800s when grape growers in the Alicante area came up with this idea as a way to sell more grapes.
  2. According to Scottish beliefs, the first person who crosses the threshold of your house after midnight on New Year’s Day should be a dark-haired male if you wish to have good luck in the coming year. Traditionally, these men come bearing gifts of coal, salt, shortbread, and whiskey, all of which further contribute to the idea of having good fortune. But why dark-haired men? Well, back when Scotland was being invaded by the Vikings, the last thing you wanted to see at your doorstep was a light-haired man bearing a giant axe. So today, the opposite—a dark-haired man—symbolizes opulence and success.
  3. Oliebollen are pieces of deep-fried dough. Ancient Germanic tribes believed the goddess Perchta tried to cut their stomachs open and fill them with trash. The fat from the doughnut-like balls would cause her sword to slide right off.
  4. Estonians believe that eating seven, nine, or 12 meals will bring good luck. People often purposefully leave food on their plates in order to feed the visiting spirits of their deceased family members.
  5. On New Year’s Eve it is common in Brazil to make offerings to Yemoja, a water deity who is said to control the seas, to elicit her blessings for the year to come.
  6. Red underwear! In Italian culture, red is associated with fertility, so people wear it under their clothes to help them conceive in the coming year.
  7. The Greeks believe onions are a symbol of rebirth, and so they hang the pungent vegetable on their doors in order to promote growth throughout the new year.
  8. In Turkey it is considered good luck to sprinkle salt on your doorstep at midnight on Dec. 31. This tradition is said to promote peace and prosperity throughout the new year. (In Saskatchewan, a sprinkling of salt might also prevent slips and falls…good luck indeed!)