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


As another year draws to a close, New Year rituals are celebrated in many countries around the world.

All ethnic, religious and cultural groups have specific customs, rituals and unique ceremonies that give them a sense of connectedness and community and provide a break from the daily routine. Significant moments such as national holidays, personal events such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, and religious celebrations are usually marked by a ceremony. This includes rites of passage - rituals or events that symbolise an important milestone in a person's life, such as the 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 behaviour and creating shared experiences, rituals forge a sense of belonging and shared identity that transforms individuals into cohesive communities," according to journalist Laura Hood.

However, the importance of customs and rituals has declined in many countries, especially as these countries have gone through a process of industrialisation, secularisation and individualisation. As a result, many local customs have been abandoned and forgotten. Others are still observed, such as religious festivals like Christmas, but some people complain that their true meaning has been lost and that the event has been commercialised.


Sometimes new festivals have been introduced, often from the Anglo-Saxon world, such as Halloween and Valentine's Day. Another example is Holi, a Hindu spring festival, also known as the festival of colours, from India. These events have become popular in places where they have been taken out of their original context and their true meaning is of little relevance to the people there. Commercial aspects have certainly contributed to their spread and popularity. But what also makes them attractive is the fact that they are not reserved for a particular group, but are open to everyone.


Image: Children celebrating Halloween                            Image: People celebrating Holi


Festivals are 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 include music, dance, storytelling, crafts, 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 Programme. 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 falls on 31 December according to the Gregorian calendar, is usually celebrated with fireworks, parties and other forms of public celebration. This ritual is believed to have originated in ancient times, when Germanic tribes made noise and lit 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 thought to have originated in ancient Rome, when people made promises to the gods in the hope of gaining their favour. Some cultures also associate eating certain foods with good luck or prosperity, such as black-eyed peas in the United States or grapes in Spain. There are also several lucky foods for the Chinese New Year.


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 there is a lot of detail in the video, it recommended that it is watched at least twice and/or that 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 unfamiliar words or have them explained by students who know them. Students should then describe how 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  which makes a sharp noise when it explodes)
  • fireworks (a small explosive that produces bright colours that people use in celebrations)


After-viewing activity


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


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