Your Shortcut to… New Year Traditions

Your shortcut to… New Year Traditions

A good one could involve an empty suitcase… 12 grapes… or special coloured underwear. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to New Year’s Around the World—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

Depending on where you are in the world this week, you might be partying hard on December 31, or waiting for another date to mark the start of a New Year.

Today, we’ll take you through WHAT we think are some of the most interesting traditions observed on December 31; WHERE in the world New Year is celebrated on different dates; and WHY humans care so much about turning over the calendar, anyway.

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Bryce, one of my favourite New Year’s was spent with Spanish friends… it was a pretty standard night – delicious food, great company, excellent music – but then at 11:59, everyone ran around making sure we all had 12 grapes.

Twelve grapes? Why’s that?

Well, the traditional belief is that if you eat one for each strike of the clock at twelve, you’ll have 12 months of good luck in the New Year. There are actually a LOT of traditions around the world relating to luck and fortune in the New Year. In the Philippines, there are a lot of round decorations at New Year, with the circle symbolising coins, meaning you’ll have good luck with money. It’s common for people to wear polka dots for the same reason.

Hmm, eating grapes, wearing polka dots, that all sounds pretty easy …

And under your polka dots you might want some special undies… In lots of South and Central American countries, like Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia, you wear red undies if you want to be lucky in love, and yellow if you’re looking for financial prosperity.

I absolutely love that one.

I reckon my favourite, though, is the Colombian tradition of walking around the block at midnight, carrying an empty suitcase… in the hope of guaranteeing a year full of travel and adventure.

Now there’s a tradition I can get behind… All of the ones we’ve talked about so far are welcoming the New Year – are there any traditions to farewell the old year?

Yeah, some years it is good to see the end of… like ones with lockdowns. I do love this one, from Denmark… apparently the tradition there is to go and smash old plates and glasses against your family and friend’s doors, to banish any bad spirits left from the old year. And in Panama, Central America, people burn muñecos, which are like huge puppets, of people who stood out in the news from the past year. When they burn, the past burns with them.

Yikes! Fire and destruction!

But it’s okay, because in the morning, everything will start again fresh. In Greece, on New Year’s Eve families pick up an onion on the way home from church and hang it over their doorway. In the morning, parents wake their kids up by tapping them on the head with the onion!

Why an onion?

Well, even if you leave an onion alone, without water or soil, it will send out roots and grow… so since Ancient times in Greece, onions have been seen as a symbol of growth and rebirth. The New Year’s Eve onion symbolises growth and health for the family in the coming year.

So many great traditions! And we haven’t even touched on the fireworks and resolutions! But not every country and culture celebrates the start of a New Year on January 1… WHERE in the world can we travel to experience a different New Year?


We have so many places to go! Let’s go first to China for the first new moon of spring, and the start of the Lunar New Year.

Isn’t it called Chinese New Year?

That’s the common name, but it’s all about celebrating the new year on a calendar that follows the moon … which is why the date changes. In 2022 it will be on February 1, so about 10 days before that, Chinese people will clean their houses thoroughly in preparation, and many people will travel to be with their families. On New Year’s Day, families come together to eat, and presents of money are given in bright red envelopes, called lai see. Red is a colour you see a lot of, because there is an old legend that a scary beast called Nian would come to scare humans on New Year’s Day. But Nian was afraid of the colour red, and of loud noises, which is why Lunar New Year involves lots of loud popping firecrackers.

And how long do these noisy celebrations last?

15 days! That’s when the new moon has become a full moon, and a lantern festival is held to finish things off.

That sounds beautiful. A full moon celebrated by big, colourful lanterns.

And the food is AMAZING.

The next New Year we’ll go to is in another place known for its delicious food, but which marks its New Year based on the solar calendar, instead of the lunar calendar. I’m talking about Thailand. Most people are Buddhists there, and Songkran is the Buddhist celebration of New Year, held from April 13 to 15. It’s a three-day water festival, and parades are held with huge statues of Buddha that spray water on passersby. In small villages, young people throw water at each other for fun.

Now I love a water fight as much as the next person, but… what does it have to do with the beginning of a New Year?

It symbolises washing away the troubles of the past year… sort of washing yourself clean for a new start.

So there’s a lunar New Year, a solar New Year, both in places that have big Buddhist populations. Do other religions have their own New Year’s too?

Indeed they do. Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It’s believed that God opens the book of life for ten days, and during this time, Jews want to make up for anything they’ve done wrong, and to forgive others. A ram’s horn trumpet, known as a shofar, is blown before and during Rosh Hashanah.

And the Islamic lunar calendar only has 354 or 355 days, compared with 365 days on the Gregorian calendar that we use. So… when do they celebrate the beginning of a new year?

It’s the first day of the month of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic year.  Bryce, if we want to get real bang for our New Year’s buck, we should travel to India… where there are multiple New Year’s celebrations in the different regions and religions… I counted at least 25!

We would be busy celebrating if we went to every one! Which makes me wonder… why do so many cultures and communities care about the beginning of a New Year?


Yeah, no other date seems to make people—especially grownups—look back on what they’ve done, reflect, resolve to do some things better, to set goals… as we’re getting ready to eat and dance and be merry, we’re also getting quite philosophical, aren’t we?

So what’s behind all of this wanting to be better?

Well, one psychologist thinks it’s all about survival. We celebrate having made it through one year… and then we make plans to survive in the next. That’s why there are so many resolutions about eating less, exercising more…

Ha! True.

And there are very old customs that are also about making sure that we survive socially. We already talked about the Jewish New Year tradition of forgiveness… in Scotland, for centuries people go “first footing” in the New Year, entering their neighbours’ houses for the first time and wishing them well. Humans depend on each other for survival, and so part of many New Year’s traditions are making nice with other people…

Forgiveness, kindness, health, happiness, good luck, travel… these are all good things that help us not only survive, but thrive. Happy New Year, Amanda.

Happy New Year, Bryce!

The S’Quiz

Question 1 What do Greek families hang over the door, then bop on their children’s heads on New Year’s Day?
Question 2 What colour undies do people in South and Central America wear for New Year’s good luck?
Question 3 Huge Buddha statues spray what on people during the Thai celebration of Songkram?