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New Year Customs from Around the World

Every year, people around the world mark the passage of time with New Year’s celebrations.  December 31 and January 1 find many more people than usual (even kids!) staying up well past their bedtimes. Learn more about this annual celebration here!

Around the world

Different cultures have different ways of celebrating the transition from the old year to the new.  It’s worth noting that some cultures which use a different calendar in addition to the Western civil one (also called the Gregorian calendar), may still mark the transition from one year to the next on January 1, but the cultural celebrations happen as the new year begins on their traditional calendar (for example, Chinese New Year and Islamic New Year).

What the heck is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is what the New Year celebration is called in Scotland.  The word’s exact origin is unknown, but it may have come from the French word hoginane meaning “gala day”.  The name might also have come from the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath meaning “holy month”.  Some claim it came from the Scandinavian hoggo-nott meaning “yule”.  A traditional part of Hogmanay is “first footing”.  That’s when someone visits friends or family immediately after midnight to become the first person to go into their house in the new year.  First footers traditionally bring a lump of coal to ensure the house remains warm in the coming months.

No sour grapes allowed, but lentils are okay

When the clock strikes midnight in Spain, people reach for grapes.  Tradition has it that you should eat one grape each time the clock chimes.  In Romania, people dress up as dancing bears at the New Year to chase away evil spirits.  In Brazil, eating a bowlful of lentils at New Year is a guarantee of good fortune for the year ahead.

Ring the bells

At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples and individuals all over Japan ring bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen.  In Seoul, South Korea, the large bell in the Bosingak pavilion (originally constructed in 1396!) is rung just once a year at midnight on December 31.

Smashing stuff

In Denmark, people smash a plate on a friend’s doorstep to bring good luck over the next twelve months.  No one knows the origin of this strange tradition.  In Johannesburg, people like to begin the year without any unwanted items, so at the new year they chuck out old furniture by dropping it out of a window.

Speaking of dropping things…

In Times Square in New York City, the countdown to midnight finishes with a giant ball drop, when a glowing ball is lowered down a big flagpole to the cheers of a million people crammed into the streets below.  The ball is twelve feet in diameter, and weighs nearly 12,000 pounds.  It’s covered with more than 2,600 Waterford Crystal triangles.  The ball has been lowered every year since 1907, except for 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was cancelled due to World War Two.   There are many ways to watch the ball drop live

Who is first (and last) to celebrate?

The Republic of Kiribati is the first nation to ring in the new year.  This Pacific atoll nation straddles the 180th meridian.  Even though its easternmost islands lie west of the Hawaiian Islands, an odd eastward thrust of the International Date Line gives Kiribati this privilege.  Kiribati is the only nation on earth which is situated in all four hemispheres.

The uninhabited Baker Island and nearby Howland Island, both U.S. possessions in the Pacific, are the last to say goodbye to the old year.  American Samoa is the last inhabited place on the globe to welcome the new year.


Although restrictions on large crowds due to the pandemic may limit fireworks displays, many are still planned and can be enjoyed from afar.  Sadly, the most famous fireworks display, held annually in Sydney, Australia will be toned down for New Year’s Eve 2020 due to pandemic restrictions.  In a normal year, the Sydney celebration would attract more than a million spectators to the city’s harbor, and one billion viewers on television and internet streaming.  Due to its time zone, Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to enter the new year. 

Most major cities have fireworks displays each year including Dubai, Singapore, Niagara Falls, Berlin, and Rio de Janeiro, where fireworks are launched at the city’s famous Copacabana beach.  Again, fireworks displays in many of the world’s great cities this year have been cancelled or curtailed due to the pandemic, but some will be streamed online.

Virtual celebrations

Kids can zoom into the New Year with the many virtual “Noon” Year’s Eve celebrations offered by children’s museums and other non-profit groups.  Here are a few:

How can I celebrate New Year in my classroom?

Since most schools are closed for the winter holidays during the week between Christmas and New Year, it is difficult to celebrate the new year in your classroom on January 1.  However, you can celebrate the new year as schools reopen a day or two later.

Turning over a new leaf

For all students, the new year affords an opportunity to start over.  This can be particularly helpful for those students who have had a rough time academically and behaviorally in the autumn term.  Giving them a chance to reset, form new goals, and develop a new attitude about learning may be just what they need to succeed in the New Year.

Roses, thorns and buds from 2020: This prompt helps kids reflect on the past and move forward to what’s ahead.  Have each student share a highlight of 2020 (rose), a challenging or sad moment (thorn), and one thing they’re looking forward to (bud) in 2021.  This can be done in group discussion or as a written assignment.  Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has more great ideas.


Start a Journal: The new year is a great time for students of all ages to start writing a daily or weekly journal.  Create a Journal Center for students who are just beginning to write (K through 2).  In the center, place copies of a blank frame for drawing and a template for writing a journal entry that will be kept in a student’s folder.  The date and a prompt is posted in the center.  Beginning writers go to the center, copy the date, read the prompt, draw a picture, write, or dictate to an aide, a classroom volunteer, or an older student assistant from another grade.  Students may choose to share journal entries during time for sharing with the class.

Older elementary students will enjoy hearing Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin read out loud. This daily journal of a personified worm, reveals some of the good news and bad news about being a worm.  The book models journal writing with humor.  After reading, lead a discussion about the book asing questions such as: What do you think of the things the worm wrote about in his diary? What would you write about in your diary?

Check out Reading Rockets for more tips on journaling.

Making Predictions

Kids have great imaginations, so engage them with an opportunity to think about what the new year will be like in the area of science and technology.  What new inventions might be created?  What discoveries might be made?  What improvements to our lives might be coming?  You might want to start with a class discussion of some of the advances which are on the horizon in the areas of space exploration, undersea research, computers, and transportation.  Popular media such as Forbes, Interesting Engineering, and National Geographic usually offer summaries of trends in many areas this time of year.

New Year’s activities for elementary children

KidsKonnect has a thick bundle of New Year worksheets and activities available for download.  This packet includes:

  • New Year Facts
  • New Year’s Info by Numbers
  • Unique Traditions
  • Mapping New Year
  • New Year Ball Drop
  • Ancient Celebrations
  • Symbols and Meanings
  • New Year Around the World
  • My Resolution

From all of us at Help Teaching, best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year!

5 Skills for a Better You in the New Year

5 Skills for a Better You in the New Year
Every year, people make New Year’s Resolutions and every year they fail to keep them. The most popular resolution every year is to lose weight, but some of the other top resolutions may surprise you. Regardless of what resolutions are going to top this year’s list, you only need to make one – resolve to better yourself. How are you going to do that? We’ve got you covered with a few skills that will lead to a better you this new year.

Handle Your Stress

Now that the craziness of the holidays has died down, it’s time to get back into your normal everyday routines. For high school students, this often means prepping for finals. For others, it means dealing with the stresses that come with work and other daily activities. Rather than letting stressful moments get the best of you this year, take some time to learn to handle your stress.

What are some ways to keep stress from getting the best of you?

Of course, if none of those strategies work, you can also spend some time popping virtual bubble wrap as a way of calming yourself down. When you learn how to handle your stress you’ll be more productive, healthier, and better able to interact with others.

Value Your Time

People have been saying “if only there were more hours in the day” for centuries. Despite that fact, there are still only 24 hours in a day and you determine how to fill them. This year, start valuing your time by learning how to manage it and making sure you’re devoting your time to things that are important.

Think it’s impossible to create some order in your crazy schedule? Try a few of these tips:

  • Make a to-do list every day so you know what’s on your plate. Use a piece of paper, the notepad on your phone, or even a fancy online tool such as Remember the Milk.
  • Assess your time to see where you’re spending the most time and then prioritize your activities to make sure you’re spending time on what matters.
  • Learn how to say no so that you can avoid taking on too much and focus on what’s most important.

As you learn to value your time, you’ll find that your stress levels will also decrease and that you enjoy what you do much more.

Care for Others

When you’re feeling down or stressed, one of the best things you can do is go care for someone else. Not only do you get to help someone out, but you also take the focus off of yourself and your problems. Caring for others involves more than just helping people out though. It also involves developing empathy, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and begin to understand their perspective. You can do this by…

When you develop empathy and learn to care for others, you will find yourself better able to deal with others, thereby potentially reducing stress. You’ll also discover some valuable ways to spend your time, making your busy days a little more meaningful.

Take Care of Yourself

People who think about themselves all the time are often thought of as self-centered and shallow. While you can focus on yourself too much, you can also focus on yourself too little. As you learn to care for others, you also need to learn to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself you can become stressed out and experience other negative emotions. You can also experience health problems, both as a result of those negative emotions and as a result of not treating your body the way you should.

Thankfully, we have a few simple ways to take care of yourself:

When you start to take care of yourself, the other parts of your life start to fall into balance too.

Educate Yourself

Knowledge is the solution to many problems. It can help you build empathy as you learn more about others. It can help you manage your time as you learn ways to complete tasks in a timelier manner. It can also reduce your stress by helping you build new skills to help you advance in your career, do better in school, or allow you to take on activities that you enjoy.

Educating yourself doesn’t have to involve enrolling in an expensive course. A few easy ways to educate yourself include:

The more you learn, the more confident you’ll feel about yourself and your abilities and our Top 100 Free Education Sites is a great place to start.

How are you going to better yourself this new year? Share your resolutions in the comments or provide some other tips to help others manage their stress, value their time, care for others, take care of themselves, and educate themselves this year.

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