December 19, 2008
For something new this year, try something very, very old (or should we say auld?): ring in 2009 at one of the world’s longest-running—yet quirkiest—celebrations. We scoured IgoUgo members’ picks and found the best places to see more than fireworks explode (in Denmark, it’s dishes; in Mexico, eggs) and to make memories you’ll revel in for years to come.
Hogmanay is Scotland’s New Year’s Eve holiday, and Edinburgh is the epicenter of celebrations that include fireworks and a “stunning” torchlight procession. Regular revelers say that “there is little better way to ring in the new year than on North Bridge in the rain with hundreds of other Scots all singing the Burns song.” After the clock strikes and kisses conclude, “a single piper” will play you to your hotel, where you might be toasted as the “first-foot” if you’re the first person to cross the threshold after midnight.
Spain: Twelve grapes
Whether you join the locals indulging in a traditional “big meal” with family or pile into Madrid’s “Times Square-like” Puerta del Sol, be sure to “eat a grape every time the bells toll”—12 times in all—for a sweet year. One warning: “with all the hooting, hollering, and champagne-popping at midnight,” you’ll need to listen carefully for your cues to chew grapes.
Denmark: Broken dishes
After the queen’s 6pm New Year’s address, Danes begin their traditional December 31 dinner with a “large feast” of lamb or cod and end it with loads of broken dishes as they throw plates at friends’ homes to express their (hopefully more resilient) friendship. Add in the newer conventions of champagne and fireworks, and you have a smashing party.
Greece: Feast of St. Basil
Mid-winter is an ideal time to visit Greece while it’s locals-only “lively,” offering “more of a sense of place” than when it’s full of summer’s visitors. And New Year’s, celebrated as the Feast of St. Basil, is a huge party, with gift giving (St. Basil, much like St. Nicholas, brings goodies for the kids) and tables full of vasilopita cake.
Colombia: Old-Year Doll
Know someone you’d just as soon forget? Head to Colombia and join locals in sweeping away out-of-favor figures with the old year by crafting an Año Viejo, or Old-Year Doll. Filled with “old clothes and newspaper,” and then fireworks, the doll is burned at midnight in “fun and awesome” fashion, “especially when Mr. Old Year is made to look like politicians or unlikable characters from everyday life.”
Ecuador: Effigies, yellow clothing, and jogs
Like communities in Colombia, Ecuadorians “place effigies outside almost every business and house” in hopes of a new year without the puppets’ real-life counterparts. But while the effigies burn, the real people are “running around the block 12 times (in order to facilitate a trip to foreign shores) while wearing the color yellow, said to bring good luck.” In Quito, everyone spills onto the streets, including the president, “on a city walk to see what celebrations are about to unfold.”
Brazil: Seven waves and floating flowers
Once you spend New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro, “you'll want to go back every year.” Beneath the sparkly fireworks and glitzy concerts lie many authentic traditions and superstitions as Brazilians pay homage to Yemanja, the goddess of the seas. At the stroke of midnight, the white-clad crowd heads into the ocean to jump seven waves and release flowers in a display that “will blow you away,” while, back on the beach, others create shrines and burn fires to ask the gods “for a better future.”
Mexico: Suitcases and eggshells
Take your pick of “spectacular” fireworks over Mexican resorts from coast to coast, but keep your suitcase at the ready to welcome the año nuevo in the traditional way: carry your luggage around the block if you hope the new year brings you many travels. Once you’ve put your carry-on in a safe place, pick up an “egg shell filled with confetti and flour” and join others in cracking them on people’s heads.
Japan: Cleaning house and 108 bells
New Year’s, or Oshogatsu, is an important time in Japan, and you’ll find Tokyo looking “absolutely beautiful” as locals don kimonos and clean house before quite literally ringing in the new year with 108 taps of temple bells—visitors can even have a ring. There and throughout the country, mochi rice balls are the centerpiece of a much-anticipated annual feast.
New Zealand: World’s first and cricket
To be among those traditionally considered the first in the world to welcome the new year, head to the “laid-back” shores of Gisborne, New Zealand. It’s the first city to see the sun each day, and the first to see midnight come January 1. Or head to the South Island and Queenstown to participate—OK, spectate—in the newer tradition of the New Year’s Eve international cricket match featuring the Kiwis’ national team, the Black Caps.