What New Year's rituals are celebrated around the world?



Another year is drawing to a close and New Year’s rituals are performed in many countries all over the world.


All ethnic, religious and cultural groups have specific customs, rituals, and unique ceremonies that give them a sense of connection and community and provide variety to everyday routine. Significant moments, such as national holidays, personal events including birthdays, weddings, and funerals as well as religious festivities are usually marked with a ceremony. This includes rites of passage - rituals or events that symbolize an important milestone in a person's life, for example quinceañera, a girl's 15th birthday, which is widely celebrated throughout Latin America. Recurring ceremonies also provide a sense of structure and security in an unpredictable world and "by aligning behavior and creating shared experiences, rituals forge a sense of belonging and common identity which transforms individuals into cohesive communities", according to the journalist Laura Hood


Nevertheless, the importance of customs and rituals has decreased in many countries, especially when these countries have undergone a process of industrialization, secularization, and individualization. Due to this, many local customs have been abandoned and forgotten. Others are still observed, as it is the case with religious festivals such as Christmas, but some people complain that its true meaning has been lost and that the event has been commercialized.


Sometimes new festivals have been introduced, often from the Anglo-Saxon world, as it is the case with Halloween and Valentine’s Day. Another example is Holi, a Hindu spring festival, also known as the Festival of Colours, from India. These events are now popular in places where they are are detached from their original context and their actual meaning is of little relevance to the people there. Commercial aspects have certainly contributed to their propagation and popularity. But what also makes them appealing is the fact that they are not reserved to a certain group, but everybody can participate in them.


Image: Children celebrating Halloween


Image: People celebrating Holi

Festivals form part of intangible cultural heritage. This term refers to the cultural practices, traditions, and knowledge systems that are passed down through generations. These practices are considered to be of significant value to humanity and also include music, dance, storytelling, craftsmanship, culinary traditions, and religious rituals. Intangible world heritage is considered an important aspect of cultural diversity and is protected by UNESCO through its Intangible Cultural Heritage program. According to the UNESCO’s Convention, intangible cultural heritage that needs to be preserved “contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large.” 


Celebrations to mark the end of the old year and the start of a new year are a common ritual in many cultures. In Western countries, New Year's Eve, which is December 31 according to the Gregorian calendar, is usually celebrated with fireworks, parties, and other forms of public celebrations. This ritual is believed to have originated in ancient times when Germanic tribes would make noise and light fires to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck in the new year.


Many people make New Year's resolutions, which are promises to themselves to make positive changes in their lives in the new year. This ritual is believed to have originated in ancient Rome, when people would make promises to the gods in the hopes of receiving their favour. In addition, eating certain foods is also associated with good luck or prosperity in some cultures, such as black-eyed peas in the United States or grapes in Spain. There are also various lucky Chinese New Year foods.


Image: Lucky Chinese dishes


The video How different cultures celebrate the New Year by Global, which is the news and current affairs division of the Canadian Global Television Network. presents some New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world. The brief descriptions include the Chinese New Year, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Nowruz (Persian New Year), Islamic New Year (Hijri New Year), Vaisakki (Sikh spring festival), and Songkran (Thailand)


Target group: Learners from level B1

Teaching aim: Learn about different calendars and New Year’s Eve traditions and describe some traditions

Type of film: Informative video (animated clips, pictures, voiceovers)

Duration: 5:45 min.





Suggested use of the video


As the video presents many details, it is recommendable to watch it at least twice and/or to have students focus on different aspects.


Pre-viewing activity


Ask the students which of the words related to New Year’s Eve they know and add some words that are relevant to them. Explain the unknown words or have them explained by students who know them. Then the students describe the way they celebrate New Year’s Eve, either in the plenary or in small groups.


New Year’s celebration vocabulary

  • New Year’s Eve
  • New Year’s Day
  • New Year’s resolutions (a decision to do something or to change something during the new year)
  • celebrate a party
  • countdown (counting down the last seconds of the year)
  • stroke of midnight (at precisely 12 pm or midnight)
  • sparkling wine (a fizzy wine with many bubbles)
  • toast (celebrate an occasion by drinking something)
  • firecracker (a small paper cylinder that contains an explosive and an attached fuse and makes a sharp noise when exploded)
  • fireworks (a small explosive that produces bright colors that people use in celebrations)



After-viewing activity


Ask the students to describe a New Year’s Eve celebration that was special to them.


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