New Year’s Traditions Around the World
International students share their traditional rituals and dishes that help amount to a good year
January 18, 2017
On December 31st, millions of Americans will kiss their sorrows away at midnight, praying for a more blissful year. Some believers will stand on their left foot so that next year they can start on the “right foot,” while others may eat black-eyed beans and watch the fireworks.
The optimism for future peace and prosperity is a universal feeling for most nations. Whether it be increased wealth or a good harvest, humans by nature hope for an improvement from last year.
From January 28th to February 2nd, the Chinese will revel in the three-day Spring festival. 2017 is the year of the rooster—one of the twelve zodiac animals and reappears every twelve years. People will decorate their homes in a decoupage of vibrant reds and golds, colors that symbolize luck and good fortune in the next year.
The festive locals of China rejoice the accomplishments they achieved the previous year through family relaxation and charitable acts. Both children and the elderly receive red envelopes filled with money, while other people can rejoice in the lantern festival and firecrackers. “Sometimes our family plays poker or Mah-jongg after dinner.” Said Mao
Chinese international student Katherine Mao recalls some of her earlier experiences with the big New Year’s shows. “We have a big show. All family come together for a big meal, then watch [the] show. At midnight, we go outside and watch the fireworks, but that’s limited now because of air pollution, so that is reduced.” Said Mao, with a little bit of disappointment, “but we still have some fireworks.”
Meals like fish and rice cakes are commonly used for the “reunion dinners” and other festivities. “We would usually eat duck, chicken, fish, and rice. We all go shopping together and get some snacks. Different dishes have a different meaning, usually towards what we want for the next year.”
Like America, France is similar when it comes to celebrating: drink and be merry; however, the French definitely do it better. International French student Victor Kirmann recalls his previous parties back home. “Now I’m not saying my experiences are what everyone in France does, but I would always go out with friends on New Year’s Eve.” Said Kirmann.
The drinking age in France is at least 16 years of age, and with Europe being quite liberal with alcohol consumption, drinking is not as taboo or as excessive. “The girls would drink wine, while guys may drink some Vodka or Whiskey. It all depends on the taste. Most people just want to get drunk.” Said Victor, who smiles just a little.
To waste time or to make merry, the French like most others will engage in late-night games. “My friends and I would usually play poker or drinking games like the pyramid, 21, all to that require a lot of focus.” Said Kirmann.
From a small country in North Africa, Tunisian international student, Soujiene Ben Jemaa, recalls his new year’s back home. “We think the New Year’s is for family. Maybe in other countries, it is more like a couples’ thing, but in Tunisia we will either stay at home or go visit a relative.”
Around dinner time, family members will gather around to eat traditional Tunisian dishes like couscous with kadida, with a mix of vegetables.
“We had a lot of cakes and traditional food. Our family cooks couscous with a tomato sauce, which is a very traditional dish.” Said Jemaa. “In America, you will have potatoes, and in Tunisia, we will try to mix everything together. Beans, vegetables, potatoes, everything.”
Superstitions are one of the few things in this world that unite us together. A random person on the street would agree that a bad haircut or an unfortunate run-in with a feral cat can spell doom for the next year.
“2 years ago, at 12:40, New Year’s Day, I fell on the stairs. Everyone said I was going to have a crappy year.” Said Victor Kirmann. “I didn’t have a crappy year, but my friends still bring it up.”
There are a couple superstitions in China that are unique. The risk of whining or crying children could sum up to be a bad year, some may even forgo washing hair for a day or two, just to be safe. Katherine Mao did not have any of these worries. “If you broke a plant, you could have a pretty bad year.”
Sometimes superstitions draw from bad experiences, especially events that can’t be controlled. “My brother is a professional photographer and he had to work on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately he dropped his camera by accident and he broke it.” Said Jemaa. “There was also a time where 2 hours before New Year’s Eve, I broke up with my girlfriend.”