Diverse New Year’s Traditions and Customs Around the World

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Residents of Mianyang, China, dress up for dragon dances to welcome the Year of the Dog on Feb. 16. VCG/Getty Images

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

It is difficult to believe that we have already crossed over into a new year. Even more difficult to believe is that it is now the year 2021. When I was a child the year 2021 seemed like “The future”, yet here we are. Time waits for no one, it just keeps marching forward.

The new year is a wonderful time because it symbolizes a fresh start and reminds us to rethink the direction we are taking or gives an excuse to try something new. In the US tradition, people create a New Year’s resolution to focus on things such as quitting smoking, losing weight or making amends with family. In the US, we celebrate the new year on January 1, but what about other cultures? The History Channel’s website offers a discussion of other culture’s New Year’s customs throughout history and around the world. The website about various new year’s traditions states “Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia. Today, most New Year’s festivities begin on December 31 (New Year’s Eve), the last day of the Gregorian calendar, and continue into the early hours of January 1 (New Year’s Day). Common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Year’s foods, making resolutions for the new year and watching fireworks displays.” 

Here are a few sites that offer teaching resources and lesson plans on New Year’s day traditions.

New Year’s Celebrations- Teaching and Learning Resources
Chinese New Year Lesson Plans
Lunar New Year Activities and Teaching Resources
New Year’s Resolutions


  1. These gathered resources definitely suggest that people across the globe have more in common in their New Year’s celebrations than different. The term “New Year” inspires hope, because we seem to thrive on the chance of a new beginning. Especially in 2020, sometimes we reach the end of the year barely dragging ourselves along. It’s interesting to think about how other cultures and people of the past celebrate(d) a chance for hope and renewal.
    When learning about ancient cultures, I think one of the major things examined is whether or not they held a calendar and how it differs from ours. But looking back at my history classes, this is always taught as something technical and just another aspect of a past culture to define. I’ve never thought about digging into how ancient people celebrated. We may not have any direct access to see this in real life, but by examining how cultures across the world celebrate the start of a year, perhaps we can pick clues and hints as to how the people who came before celebrated. This is important because when we look at history, we always focus on wars, changes in land control, and the bigger picture nature of societies. It’s nice to take time to reflect on reasons for celebration, and to try and place ourselves in the mindsets of others.
    I think examining how different cultures celebrate specific occasions would be an interesting take for a sociology, anthropology, or world cultures class. Students could be tasked with identifying common attributes of these celebrations, and this could then open a larger discussion on why people celebrate the way we do. Particularly in how we honor the past and move towards the future in these yearly traditions.

  2. As a lover of people and world cultures, I really appreciate this article and the resources, I loved that it even included some quiz and games with music to popular songs. These resources are great tools to use to inspire students and show them how similar and different we all can be, and how, through education, we can embrace and respect those differences. We often fear those different from us, until we come to understand them. With resources and lessons like this, the world doesn’t seem so big and scary. In the end, all of us just want to celebrate another year around the sun!

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