Reflect on holiday traditions by learning about how New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world.
We all have personal traditions and celebrations we use to usher in the New Year. For me, and for many others I know, these often include a party with friends, culminating in turning on the TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square.
But does everyone in the United States celebrate the way I do? No, and because of this, it’s a great time to remind students that traditions differ within and across cultures. Talking about this will not only teach them about different cultural practices; it will also encourage them to reflect on their own traditions.
Ask Your Students
Ask your students to think about their celebrations and traditions surrounding the New Year. Have them compare those with others in their class, community, and country. Ask them about similarities and differences that they see. Then, research and share New Year’s traditions from around the world, digging into the cultural values and perspectives associated with these practices and celebrations.
To get started, take a look at some of these unique traditions and celebrations in different cultures throughout the world.
Russians have a tradition of writing down their wishes for the New Year on a piece of paper. Then, they burn the paper with a candle, take the ashes, and drink them with a glass of champagne or fruit juice. The idea is that by literally internalizing the wish or dream, it will come true.
In Ecuador, many people create effigies and scarecrows that look like politicians and cultural icons. At midnight, they burn the scarecrows to cleanse the New Year of everything evil. The tradition of burning away the worst of the old year may date back to the late 1800s when a yellow fever epidemic swept through Guayaquil, Ecuador, prompting many to burn things in order to eradicate the contagion.
The Spanish often eat 12 grapes at midnight with the intent of bringing good fortune to the New Year. A common story traces the tradition to grape farmers who suggested the idea when they had a surplus harvest to unload in the early 1900s. However, newspaper articles about the tradition from the 1880s suggest it developed from Madrid’s upper classes copying the French custom of drinking champagne and eating grapes on New Year’s Eve. The tradition has now spread to many parts of South and Central America.
In Denmark, friends and family break dishes outside each other’s doors on New Year's Eve. The size of the pile indicates the amount of good fortune you will have in the New Year. Some say that breaking dishes is a way to leave aggression and hostility behind in the old year, and face the new year with a positive attitude.The origins of this tradition is unknown, and while it’s most popular in Denmark, some other European countries celebrate in this way too.
In Switzerland, many people drop a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream on the floor at midnight. It’s meant to bring good luck and wealth. The origins of this tradition are unknown, but as many people have pointed out, it makes sense in a country where sweet treats are abundant.
In Guadeloupe, people offer mandarins or oranges to loved ones. In many cultures, these sweet, juicy fruits are associated with luck, prosperity, and longevity. The first seeds are kept in purses, wallets, or pockets to ensure wealth and happiness throughout the year.
Happy New Year!
However you and your students celebrate the New Year, have fun learning about different cultures and traditions together and reflecting on the bigger norms and perspectives that inform them.
Here’s to a great 2022!
For more cool ideas about comparative culture lessons you can use in your classroom, check out our other Culture Corner articles or share yours with the Language Is Limitless educator community!
Ricky taught middle school and high school French for 14 years in Arkansas and Texas. During those years, he also had the opportunity to teach Spanish, English, and Reading Improvement. After leaving the classroom, he served as an Instructional Specialist for World Languages and later, as Director of World Languages for Dallas Independent School District. For the last six years, he has served in various capacities in educational publishing. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in French, a Master’s of Science in Mass Communication, and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. His research focused on diversity in French textbooks. As an educator, his passion is to ensure that all students find themselves reflected in the curriculum.Explore more related to this author