New Year’s Traditions


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The New Year’s tradition for most Americans usually involves making noise, drinking too much spending a lot of money to go to a fancy club or hotel for a party of virtual strangers, and, of course, watching the ball drop in New York City.

But since New Year’s is something that happens around the globe, many cultures have traditions that have been celebrated for generations. Here are some traditions steeped in history that make us look pretty simple:

  • Muslims celebrate the New Year by wearing new clothes.
  • In England, on the stroke of midnight, people open the back door to symbolize “letting the old year out”. It is also traditional to ask the first dark haired man you see to come through the front door carrying salt, coal and bread. This symbolizes that this year everyone will have enough money (salt), food (bread), and warmth (coal).
  • Southeast Asians release birds and turtles to assure themselves good luck in the twelve months ahead.
  • Hindus leave shrines next to their beds so they can see beautiful objects at the start of the New Year.
  • In Wales it is believed that you should pay off all debts before the New Year begins, since ending a year in debt means a whole new year of debt.
  • The Scots celebrate Hogmanay. The word comes from the name of an oat cake that was traditionally given out to children on New Year’s Eve. At midnight the “first footing” takes place; the first person to set foot in a home at the New Year is believed to affect the fortunes of all who live there. Strangers are especially thought to bring good luck.
  • Japanese prepare rice cakes at a social event the week before the New Year and on New Year’s they give out colorful little envelopes with money in them, called otoshidama, to children.

These traditions make me want to start in your home. Try one or two of these traditions with your family and friends each year to make the holiday a meaningful and fun one:

  • New Year’s Activity Countdown: Keep your family members (and the kiddos!) entertained with an activity countdown on New Year’s Eve! For every half hour increment leading up to midnight (begin when the party starts, around 7 or 8 pm), write out an activity on a slip of paper. Store the slips in envelopes, wrapped boxes, or inflated balloons with the time on them. Open the envelope/box or pop the balloon when the time arrives and begin the activity! For kids, activities might include decorating cookies, eating ice cream, or playing with sparklers. For adults, make the activities more age appropriate. A champagne toast, setting off fireworks, or playing charades would be a great way to keep the party going!
  • Who’s First? New Year’s Tradition: After the ball drops, play a fun game with family and friends! Fill a jar with slips of paper describing “firsts” of the New Year. Pull slips from the jar and read them aloud. The first person to perform the task gets a point, and after reading all the slips, whoever has the most points wins a prize. Try some of these activities (some for kids and others for adults): first to do a cartwheel, first to drink a shot, first to get a kiss, first to pat their head and rub their stomach at the same time, first to hop on one foot for 30 seconds, first person to whistle a tune, etc.
  • “Good Things” Jar: Put a slip of paper describing something good that has happened to you or your family for each day, starting on New Year’s Day and ending the day before New Year’s Eve. So it seems less daunting, make this a family responsibility with a different person adding a “good thing” for each day of the week. On New Year’s Eve, read the slips out loud to not only reminisce but to also have a good laugh! After reading all of the slips before the ball drops, empty the jar and begin again the next day!
  • New Years’ Time Capsule: On New Year’s Eve, have the kiddos decorate a shoebox and write letters to their future selves describing their resolutions for the upcoming year. Store the time capsule in a dry place, and open it up the following New Year’s Eve. Everyone will be surprised by how much they’ve grown and changed over the past year!
  • Family New Year’s Scrapbook: On New Year’s Eve, have each family member make a scrapbook page to remember what has happened over the past year. People may commemorate their big job promotion, a new baby in the family, a school play in which they were the lead, or a soccer tournament win. Over the years, you’ll create a scrapbook to remember your family’s best experiences!
  • New Year’s Home Video: Every New Year’s Eve create a home video where each family member answers the same questions year after year. Then, watch the home videos from previous years and see how the kids have grown and how the family has changed. Try this list of questions to help you get started:

I am most thankful for…

This year I plan to…

The funniest thing that happened this year was…

The most embarrassing thing that happened to me this year was…

I will always remember how…

I want to thank _______________ for…

I am lucky because…

If I had three wishes, I would wish…

It was a lot of fun when…

Describe favorite food, color, school subject, sport, etc.

  • Something NEW! Every New Year’s Eve, plan an outing with family and friends to do something completely new! This may be going to the NEW Italian restaurant that opened down the street or going to see the NEW blockbuster that opened that weekend. Whatever it is, this tradition gets everyone exploring and trying something they may have never tried before (a good resolution, by the way)!
  • Midnight Snack Survival Kits: After the ball drops, hand out midnight snack survival kits to keep up the energy! Fill personalized New Year’s favor bags with a fortune cookie, miniature candy bars, homemade cookies, and some hot cocoa. These energy boosters will keep family and friends going well into the wee hours of the morning.
  • Cookie Delivery: Start off the New Year right by baking and decorating cookies with the kiddos on New Year’s Eve. Make up a plate for each neighbor, and after the ball drops, deliver them with the kids around the neighborhood. The adage “treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated” never tasted so good!


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A common good luck food in the southern United States, black-eyed peas are thought to bring prosperity, especially when served with collard greens. Try these recipes: Hoppin' John; Pulled Pork Pot Pie; or  Baked Black-Eyed Peas.
Black-Eyed Peas