New Year Traditions Around the World Unit Study

Every nation, culture, and family has their own traditions regarding the holidays, and the ringing in of a new year is no different. In this unit study, we will look into some of the different ways the New Year is celebrated across the globe. Did you know not everyone celebrates the new year on January 1? In fact, there are lots of differences across the globe. Prepare to dive in with a book list, fun facts, activities, snacks, videos, and a printable workbook. Also, this unit study can be used and adapted for all elementary grades, PreK-5.

Books to Read



New Year’s Fun Facts

It’s fascinating to discover how so many New Year traditions here in the United States have been borrowed from different places and cultures worldwide. Indeed, we are a “melting pot!”

  • Auld Lang Syne is an old Scottish folk song. It was popularized in America in the 1920s by Guy Lombardo, a Canadian bandmaster.
  • The practice of kissing someone at midnight is said to have originated with Ancient Romans. In fact, they believed sharing a kiss would prevent loneliness in the year ahead…and also ward off evil spirits. Now, it’s said that kissing one’s partner at midnight will ensure continuing affection between the pair. Additionally, not kissing is supposed to have the opposite effect.
  • Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Moreover, do you keep them?
    • In fact, resolutions are said to be traced back to the Babylonians over 4,000 years ago. They made promises or resolutions to their gods at the beginning of their year (in March, not January) to stay in their god’s good graces.
    • Indeed, these days, the most popular resolution made in the U.S. is to get healthier.
    • In fact, most people abandon their New Year’s Resolutions by February.
  • A small island nation in the Pacific, Kiribati, is the first place to celebrate the new year. However, American Samoa is the last inhabited place to ring in the year.  Interestingly, these 2 islands are only 759 miles apart!
  • Around 1,000,000 people cram into Times Square in New York City each year to watch the iconic ball drop. While this is the most known and popular “drop” to ring in a new year, it certainly isn’t the only one! Here are a few of the more unique “drops” around the nation:
    • In Miami, Florida, they drop a 35-foot neon orange.
    • Eastover, North Carolina drops a 3-foot-tall flea. Yes, a flea.
    • Hershey, Pennsylvania drops a 7-foot-tall Hershey Kiss. Fun!
    • If you’re near Folly Beach, South Carolina, you can watch the drop of a giant pair of glittering flip-flops!
    • The small town of Mount Olive, North Carolina has taken to having a pickle drop. They have a 3-and-a-half-foot pickle that has been dropping at midnight since 1999.
    • In Vail, Colorado, they have the Torchlight Parade. Ski instructors join together holding flares to form a glowing train that moves in formation down Golden Peak. So cool! Watch a clip from a past year here!
    • Last, but certainly not least, in true Southern fashion, the city of Mobile, Alabama drops a 12-foot-tall Moon Pie at midnight to ring in the new year!
  • Even more, there are so many superstitious traditions around the new year involving foods. Some of these are familiar, but some were new to me. It’s so interesting to learn these things! Here are a few:
    • Black-eyed peas and collard greens (or cabbage) are staples found on most tables in the southern United States on New Year’s Day. It is said that eating the peas will bring good luck and the greens will bring wealth.
    • Also, some tables will have many circular foods. Items such as bagels, donuts, English muffins, etc. This is to illustrate the year coming full circle.
    • Additionally ,in Spain, it is tradition to eat 12 grapes for good luck. Each grape represents a month of the year.
    • What about what NOT to eat? Make sure not to eat chicken or lobster on New Year’s Day. They are considered bad luck foods because lobsters can crawl backward and chickens can scratch themselves backward. Thus, this may indicate a setback in the upcoming year. Similarly, any winged birds should be off the table because you don’t want your good luck flying away!
  • Good Luck Traditions/Superstitions around the world:
    • In Denmark, people save up their unused plates throughout the year and throw them at the front doors of their friends and family for good luck.
    • Additionally, in Brazil, people want to get in the Sea Goddess’s good graces in the new year, so they enter the ocean and jump over waves 7 times.
    • Also, in Turkey, people will sprinkle salt on their front steps at midnight to have good luck in the new year!
    • Furthermore, single ladies in Ireland will sleep on New Year’s Eve with mistletoe under their pillows to increase their chances of meeting their future husbands in the new year.
    • Another Irish tradition is to bang bread against the walls on New Year’s Eve. In fact, they believe this will drive away bad luck.
    • It is considered good luck to open all the doors and windows at midnight to let the old year out and the new year in.
    • In Switzerland, it is believed you’ll have good luck if you let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.
    • The Scottish believe that the first person to enter your home in the new year will either bring good luck or bad luck, so the first visitor is very important. Also, they must enter leading with their right foot for good luck!
  • Other miscellaneous fun facts:
    • Some people in Greenland celebrate the new year twice! Because they are a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, some celebrate when the new year begins there and then again when midnight strikes in Greenland 4 hours later.
    • In Russia, people will write their New Year’s wishes on paper, burn the paper, place the ashes in a glass of champagne, and drink it at midnight!
    • One Columbian tradition is to run around the block as fast as possible…while carrying an empty suitcase. Doing this is supposed to ensure a year filled with travel.
    • In Denmark, people will stand on a chair right before midnight, and jump off as the clock strikes 12:00.
    • In some Latin American countries, the color of underwear one chooses for the beginning of a new year is very important. Yellow is supposed to promote opportunities for money and abundance, red for love, and white for peace.

New Year’s Unit Study Activities

Gather some ideas from the Fun Facts above to do with your children! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Try Denmark’s Chair Leaping: Let your children arrange some kitchen chairs, countdown (as if to midnight), and jump!
  • Bang Bread with the Irish: Your kids will love taking some baguettes and banging them on the walls. It’s a good way to release pent-up energy as well!
  • Have a Columbian Empty Suitcase Parade: Gather up an empty suitcase for each child, and take a walk around the block!

New Year’s Traditional Snacks

Choose some traditional New Year’s foods to try with your little ones!

  • Add 12 grapes to your morning snack for good luck!
  • Have a circular snack! Eat a bagel with cream cheese, an English muffin pizza, or even a sugary donut…then turn the kids outside to run it off!
  • If you’re feeling adventurous (if your kids are super picky eaters like mine), try the traditional Southern staples – black-eyed peas and greens!

New Year’s Learning Videos

Printable Workbook

Download and start your New Year Unit study today!