New Year's Traditions Explained

Jolie Lee, USA Today

As 2013 comes to a close, USA TODAY Network takes a look at theorigins of some of the world's most cherished New Year's traditions -from the familiar to some customs you may never have realized couldprovide good fortune in the year ahead.

Times Square

Beforethe ball, there were fireworks. The first New Year's Eve celebration inTimes Square in New York City was held in 1904, culminating in afireworks show. When the city banned fireworks two years later, eventorganizers arranged to have a 700-pound iron and wood ball lowered down apole, according to the Times Square website.In the years since, it's become a tradition for Americans to watch theball start dropping at 11:59 p.m. and to count down the final secondsbefore the new year begins.

Auld Lang Syne

Thesong literally means "old long ago." The work by 18th-century Scottishpoet Robert Burns has endured the ages and spread beyond Scotland andthroughout the English-speaking world. The song is about "the love andkindness of days gone by, but ... it also gives us a sense of belongingand fellowship to take into the future," according to, a website of the Scottish government.

Kissing at midnight

Perhaps you'll have a New Year's Eve kiss that was the definingmoment in a sweeping love story - like the one Billy Crystal and MegRyan shared in the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally. Or maybeyou'll pucker up with the person who happens to be standing next to youbecause, well, that's just what people do. But why? Not doing so willensure a year of loneliness, according to tradition. The custom may dateto ancient European times as a way to ward off evil spirits, the Montreal Gazette reports.

Black-eyed peas

It'sa tradition to eat Hoppin' John, a stew made of black-eyed peas, in theAmerican South. "Many Southerners believed that the black-eyed peassymbolized coins and eating them insured economic prosperity for thecoming year," wrote Frederick Douglass Opie, a food historian, in hisblog Food As A Lens.

Colorful undies

Insome Latin American countries, including Mexico and Brazil, it'sbelieved the color of your undergarments will influence what kind ofyear you'll have. Tradition holds that yellow underwear will bringprosperity and success, red will bring love and romance, white will leadto peace and harmony and green will ensure health and well-being,according to Michael Kleinmann, editor of The Underwear Expert website.

12 grapes

In Spain and some other Spanish-speaking countries, one New Year'scustom is to eat 12 grapes for 12 months of good luck. But here's thecatch: to bring about a year's worth of good fortune, you must starteating the grapes when the clock strikes midnight, then eat one for eachtoll of the clock. The best strategy? "Just take a solid bite and thenswallow, pips and all," writes cookbook author Jeff Koehler on NPR's blog.

Molten lead

Insteadof reading tea leaves to tell the future, some in Germany and Austriaread the molten lead. Here's how: Heat up some lead in a spoon. Whenit's melted, pour the molten lead into cold water. The shape of the leadwill tell you what's ahead of you in the coming year (although theshapes are open to interpretation). If you don't want to actually meltmetal, there's an app to do it for you.


It'snot surprising that China, the country that invented fireworks, alsomakes setting them off a central part of New Year's celebrations. It'sbelieved the noise scares off evil spirits and misfortune. The Chineseobserve the lunar new year, which this time falls on Jan. 31, 2014.

Polka dots

Manyin the Philippines wear polka dots because the circle representsprosperity. Coins are kept in pockets and "are jangled to attractwealth," according to Tagalog Lang, a website about Filipino language and culture.


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