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Dragons, chimney sweeps, and grapes: New Year’s traditions around the globe

The advent of new technology and endless sources of instant transcontinental news has allowed the human race to be intricately connected, now more than ever. We asked staff across Oxford University Press to describe their New Year’s traditions, celebrating their culture, background, and ancestry. As we welcome the New Year, we also commemorate our differences and customs.

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“Bleigießen, a type of fortune telling, is a favourite New Year’s activity in Germany (molybdomancy is probably the translation that comes closest). You melt a small chunk of lead (or wax or tin) over a candle, then quickly pour it into a bowl of cold water. The hardened shape (or its shadow) is then interpreted to predict that person’s future in the coming year.

“Many Germans prepare and drink Feuerzangenbowle (literary “fire tongs punch”) on New Year’s Eve. Preparing this drink is a ritual and part of the fun so for many, it’s as important as the drinking. A rum-soaked sugar loaf is set on fire so the caramelized sugar drips into spiced red wine (mulled wine) which is usually suspended over a ‘rechaud.’ The drink’s popularity was raised by a German book and subsequent film called Die Feuerzangenbowle.”

— Anne Ziebart, Senior Marketing Executive

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“New Year’s Day is family time in Japan, like Christmas in the UK. We have a special lunchbox, alcohol in the morning, and visit a shrine. We eat soba noodles on 31 December, wishing to live longer. We give a little bit of money to kids on New Year’s Day, wishing happiness and wealth in the year.”

— Yuka Saito, Portfolio Marketing Executive

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“I’m Dutch and in the Netherlands we eat ‘oliebollen.’ I also lived in Germany for a long time and call that home. Their New Year’s is called Silvester. People gift others marzipan Schornsteinfeger (chimney sweepers) or a Glücksschwein, as they’re used to wish someone good luck.”

— Franca Driessen, Senior Marketing Executive

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“Lion Dance Confetti” by Kurt Bauschardt. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

“Growing up in Colombia, there were many traditions we adhered to on New Year’s Day. One of them included wearing yellow underwear to represent gold and wealth. My family and I always had twelve grapes in hand and had to eat them all up as soon as twelve o’clock hit, while making a wish for the upcoming year.

“Another tradition is ‘Año Viejo’, literally meaning the ‘Old Year’, which consists of creating a life size doll out of clothes and newspaper, and setting it on fire before midnight, signifying good-bye to the old year and welcoming the next one. Once all this is done, you’d grab a luggage and quickly run around the block to ensure there’d be lots of traveling in the upcoming year. This was my favorite part as a child, as neighbors would typically wave and wish you safe travels from their homes.”

— Estefania Ospina, Social Media Marketing Coordinator

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“In the UK, people often go for a swim in the sea on New Year’s Day – especially in places like Dover and Cornwall, but in northern parts of the UK too. Another great British New Year tradition is the ‘start as you mean to go on’ run, which usually takes place on the morning of New Year’s Day within a group of friends who have all made a resolution to get fit, eat well, and drink less. The New Year’s Jog is followed immediately by a large brunch and the signing up of the entire party to the local gym. Many will attend religiously throughout January, though come February the treadmills will be still and the changing rooms deserted.”

— Katie Stileman, Publicity Assistant

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“Although the Chinese New Year is not until 28 January this year on the Gregorian calendar, there are a myriad of traditions that people are already looking forward to in celebration of the event. One of the most recognizable traditions is lion or dragon dancing. The fearsome faces of the lions and dragons, combined with the loud beating of drums and gongs, are thought to ward off evil spirits.

On Chinese New Year, red is worn as it is traditionally believed to bring wealth and good fortune. Red envelopes with crisp new bills are even given out to children and unmarried individuals on this day. Last but not least, food and family plays an important role on Chinese New Year: on New Year’s Eve, families gather for feasts at the home of the most senior member of the family and enjoy a spread that includes chicken, pork, noodles, and fish.”

— Priscilla Yu, Social Media Marketing Assistant

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Featured image credit: Mooncake Festival Fireworks (Melbourne) by Chris Phutully. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Recent Comments

  1. dm10003

    The germandeli.com video demonstrating Feuerzangenbowle spoke about it being a Christmas tradition, saying nothing about New Year’s.

  2. Lilian Duran

    Very interesting!

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