Diverse New Year’s Traditions and Customs Around the World

Cover Image
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

8 Comments

  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!

  3. I absolutely love learning about different countries and cultures, especially holidays/traditions/celebrations/etc. I think it is really neat how the entire world collectively celebrates the New Year every year, even if it is all in different ways. I really appreciate the resources that were included at the end of the article as well. As a future teacher, I do not want my students to ever stop learning! Teaching them something like this would not only be something they are interested in but also very eye opening and critical it could be in their knowledge about other countries and cultures.

  4. I have always had an interest in learning about other cultural traditions. Even when I was younger, I explored these topics, though typically through the American Girl Doll books. Considering the lack of discussion about other cultures, I want to work on incorporating information about other cultures and traditions in my future classroom. I think that the students deserve to learn about where modern traditions stem from as well as what other people around the world do to celebrate different holidays such as New Years. This article provides great sources, including different lessons, games, worksheets, and more. I really enjoyed reading through the different lesson plans and activities. I also found it interesting to read about the Scottish superstition that the first person to walk into the house on New Year’s Day is supposedly carrying luck. Overall, I enjoyed reading this brief article and getting to explore some of the sources provided.

  5. As a future educator, I think it is important for students to know how other cultures celebrate significant days such as New Year’s Day around the world. Teachers are responsible for engaging their students in learning and a perfect way to do that is by having the students learn about different cultural customs/traditions that will peak the student’s interest and encourage students to do their own research on cultures around the world. So many individual and group projects could be implemented to help students learn about the different ways a significant day such as New Year’s Day is celebrated around the world. For example, one week you could have your students work with a partner to research a culture then have the students focus on one significant day that is similar to a significant day that is celebrated in their own community and one significant day that is unique to that culture. Then the students present those days to the class in their own ways whether that be through symbols, food, music, etc. to explain and demonstrate the culture’s traditions. At the end of the presentations, the class could have a discussion on what the students think of the significant days and if they would want to start celebrating those days or incorporating some of their traditions in their own celebrations. Activities like this one, will help students learn about different cultures and help the students realize that there is more than one way to celebrate a significant day such as New Year’s Day.

  6. As a future educator cultures and very important to include in the classroom. You never know a students background which is why it is important to educate students on other cultures. The world continues to become more and more diverse which is why it is important to accept and explain diversity in the classroom. This would make for a great lesson approaching New Years. First, explain the American traditions, and then ask if anyone would like to share their personal traditions or celebrations. Then, create a lesson introducing other celebrations. The resources given at the end of the article are great for when planning a lesson. I personally saved these links for when the time approaches for me to teach a lesson on this!

  7. I cannot believe it is 2021! Each year, Americans focus the new year on growth and changes of what their life has consisted of. I think it is so important for us to recognize how other cultures celebrate and ring in the new year. As a future educator going through teaching practicums, I have focused my time and energy on informing students about traditions of the new year held by other cultures. I have been able to design and implement two lessons about this very topic to two different grade levels, kindergarten and second grade. We always seem so focused on sharing how we celebrate this time of year, but I think this sparks interest in students to see how others different from them celebrate these times! I think that by including the traditions of other cultures, it forms a foundation of students being accepting of people who live differently than us. Not that there is a right or wrong, but more so to illustrate that one way is not the only way to do things. The resources listed in this article are great ideas of what to use in a future classroom, as well! The more that students are informed about these types of topics, the more opportunities that are presented to us as educators to embrace them and make students have social awareness of these types of cultural differences!

  8. It is so crazy to think that it is already 2021! I remember thinking when I was a kid, too, how far away even 2020 was. Now we’ve made it to an entire year further! I think it is really neat to hear about the different New Year’s traditions different cultures have! I also think it is really interesting that different cultures celebrate the New Year on different dates. The lessons provided within this article were great and I look forward to using them in my future of teaching! It is really important to teach students that all cultures are different and celebrate holidays in different ways!

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