Happy New Year! - The Many Ways It's Celebrated

Happy New Year! - The Many Ways It's Celebrated cover

Happy New Year! Have you set your new year’s resolutions? This is the first article on italki for 2018. Welcome to the new year and new beginnings. Read about all the ways people celebrate the turn of the calendar year.

新年快乐 // Feliz año nuevo С новым годом or S novym godom // שנה טובה ומתוקה // Happy New Year!

* from left to right--Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, English

Who knows where you’ll be on December 31st, 2018, to January 1st, 2019? New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Many nations from all over the world now participate in the Western style “ball drop” countdown to the New Year.

Naturally, there are many international time changes; and even in America, California celebrates New Year’s three hours later than compared to New York City. But this is the American way of celebrating New Year’s. Almost every nation has its own way of celebrating it. So let’s take look at the nations mentioned above and how they welcome in the New Year.


More important than the Western-style New Year celebration, the Chinese celebrate The Chinese New Year. It comes at a different time each year because it’s based on the Chinese lunar calendar. This year it falls on February 15h, 2019, according to Chinese New Year Dates.

It lasts 16 days--sometimes more--and is also known as the Spring Festival. The Chinese New Year revolves a lot around family get togethers and reunions. In that way, it’s quite different than the American New Year, lasting only one day and which centers on parties with friends.

A week before New Year’s day, the Chinese “carry out a thorough cleaning of their houses. The cleaning is called “sweeping the dust, and represents a wish to put away old things, bid farewell to the old year, and welcome the New Year”, according to the website China Highlights.

A week before, there are an amazing number of preparations for the New Year. These include buying new holiday clothes for everyone and decorating their doors with a variety of symbols which symbolizes luck. A good-luck color is red, and the Chinese hang all manner of (things that are similar to each other) red lanterns, couplets (made of silk or silk-like material) with expressions that will bring good fortune.

On New Year’s Eve, there is a very important family meal. Some relatives travel long distances throughout China to participate in that family meal. Children receive red envelopes with lucky money and this is the night that everyone stays up late to welcome the New Year.

But the New Year celebration continues. People get a week off from work! There are many activities, including fireworks and ceremonies acknowledging their ancestors, on top of more festive family meals. On the 8th day after New Year’s, most people return to work, but it doesn’t end there: there is the sending off of lighted lanterns, more fireworks and the eating of sweet dumplings to signify the hope of a sweet new year.

To understand more about the Chinese New Year, read about it here.


What is the most important thing you need to do on New Year’s Eve in Spain? It’s not alcohol; it’s not a kiss at the stroke of midnight. It’s grapes! “You must eat: a dozen green grapes, representing good luck for each month of the coming year”, says NPR (National Public Radio) Madrid contributor Lauren Frayer. “And they must be eaten right at the stroke of midnight”.

So when other nations revel at the stroke of midnight, the Spanish rapidly down (idiom for eating something fast) grapes as the bells atop a clock tower in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square -- the Spanish equivalent of Times Square -- chime out the New Year. “Spaniards often spend Nochevieja — literally, the \"old night\" — at home with family and close friends”, according to Frayer. Then, the Spanish go partying until 5 am, according to Fraver. One more thing: for good luck, the Spanish often wear red underwear.

To understand more about how to celebrate the New Year in Spain, read about it here.


To the Russians, New Year’s is even more important than Christmas, according to Cultural Awareness International. The Russian Christmas occurs on January 7th, according to the Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church.

There are actually two New Year’s celebrations in Russia. Russia’s “Old” New Year is celebrated on January 14th, according to the Julian, or Orthodox calendar. “This celebration is the smaller of the two New Year’s holidays and Russians usually spend the day with family”. Then the larger New Year is celebrated in Red Square on December 31st, with fireworks and all kinds of celebrations and parties with friends.

Before all the celebrations begin, however, families have very late dinners. Food consists of “traditional Russian salads. The most popular is Olivier salad, which includes potatoes, carrots, pickles, green peas, eggs, chicken or bologna, and mayonnaise”, says Cultural Awareness International. The family stays together until midnight, and then the older members of the family go out to celebrate.

Right at midnight, “the Kremlin Spasskaya Clock Tower chimes, the Russian national anthem is played”, and the crowd cheers and breaks into raucous partying, just as most Western nations do.


For Jewish people in Israel and all over the world, the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is primarily a very religious holiday. It occurs sometime between September and October, depending on the Hebrew calendar. It usually lasts two consecutive days, being very family oriented.

There’s an interesting legend as to why the Jewish New Year lasts two days. Thousands of years ago, before the phone was invented, the start of the New Year was signified by a man waving a torch on the top of a mountain. When the next man, miles away, saw the first torch, he then lit his torch and waved it from a high place. This same scenario occurred several times until the last torch bearer held up his light at the other side of country. The “problem” was that by the time the last bearer announced the start of the New Year, it was a new dawn in the first part of Israel. The first day of New Year had passed several torches before. Therefore, to accommodate all the people that the New Year was upon them, they held the holiday of Rosh Hashanah (meaning the head of the New Year) for two days.

All Jewish holidays start the eve before. Called “Eref Rosh Hashanah, usually the eldest woman in the home lights two candles, which, if possible, are left to burn out. Then close family members have a big meal, with the main serving being chicken or turkey. One of the traditional foods served is bread dipped in honey to signify a sweet new year.

The days of Rosh Hashanah are spent in the temple, praying for hours. (I’m Jewish and I must say that this is not my favorite holiday). The most common greeting over the next ten days is L’shana Tovah, meaning “Have a good New Year.”

Ten days later comes the most serious of all Jewish holidays and, in fact, the most serious day in the year. It is called Yom Kippur, meaning The Day of Atonement. There is a fast for all healthy adults that lasts for 24 hours. I’ve never met a person who regretted the end of the High Holy Days, as they are called, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The U.S.

New Year’s Eve in the U.S. is usually not about family; it’s more about parties and celebrations. There are toasts at midnight when the New Year begins. It’s also a time when couples share a long kiss. Even people who don’t know each other will kiss each other.

My mother, who was a young woman in the 1930s, said if you didn’t have a date on New Year’s Eve, it was a travesty (a tragedy). It didn’t even matter if you liked the person you were going with -- just that you had someone to be with on New Year’s Eve. Today, it’s not mandatory that you have a date; many people get together in groups and celebrate. New Year’s Eve is considered a dangerous holiday for driving. There are laws, of course, against drinking and driving, but many partygoers must be warned again and again.

The national highlight of celebration is in Time Square in New Your City. As the countdown reaches midnight, there are some big firework shows. Rock bands play well into the morning. Now, there are other cities around the U.S. that have their own countdown. On New Year’s day, families do get together, wishing everyone good tidings of the season. A lot of people sleep late on New Year’s Day because of the partying they did the night before.

Many nations and cultures have their very specific ways of celebrating the New Year. Wherever you are on December 31st, 2018, have a happy, healthy and safe New Year!

Ilene Springer is a long-time italki tutor in English. She teaches intermediate, upper-intermediate and upper-level students, including advanced and proficient. She has been a writer for national magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and author of The Diary of an American Expatriate. Please visit her website at


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