New Years Eve Traditions Around the World

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All around the world, people will be celebrating (or lamenting) the New Year on December 31st.   While music, friends, family and fun seem universal on this night, some countries have unique customs and traditions.

SCOTLAND

In Scotland, New Years Eve is known as Hogmanay, and there’s a rich heritage associated with its celebration.   Its roots date back to Viking, or Norman, or Flemish traditions (depending on who you speak to) but all call for an epic night of partying. Friends and strangers are made welcome, while ladies freely dish out New Years kisses, much to the delight of the gents. A custom called “first footing” is still common throughout the country. After midnight, a male should step first into the house for good luck. Since he’s typically bearing a bottle of fine Scotch, it’s good luck indeed.

THAILAND

Thais love to party, and they love to party on New Years Eve.   Perhaps that’s why they enjoy three annual New Years Eve celebrations. Fireworks and celebrations abound for our Western New Year as well as the Chinese New year. But things really go crazy for Songkran, the Thai New Year.   It is tradition to throw or spray water, drenching anyone you see, friend or stranger. The water is seen as a symbol of cleaning away the pain and sorrow of the year past. Sometimes the water is mixed with good luck herbs or talc, caking everyone in milky goo.   Songkran is a time to pay respect to elders and family, and also cleaning the household for the year to come. Buddha statues are also gathered, paraded, and sprayed with water for good luck too.

ISRAEL

While the Hebrew calendar differs greatly from the Western Calendar, most Israelis are happy to have one more excuse to party.   New Years Day in Israel is known as Sylvester, after a Pope who ruled around 325 AD.   Canonized by the Church as a Saint to be honoured on December 31st, Sylvester was behind various anti-Semitic legislation and restrictions. In fact, during medieval times, January 1st was typically accompanied by attacks on synagogues, Jews, and book burnings. On January 1st 1577, Pope Gregory required all Roman Jews to convert to Catholicism under pain of death.   With this in mind, many Israelis and Jews celebrate New Years Eve as a poignant reminder of their survival through the ages.  The Jewish New Year typically takes place in September or October.

SINGAPORE

Should you be in Singapore for December 31st, head to Marina Bay for huge celebrations (last year there were over 250,000 people), or walk amongst the crowds on the Esplanade or at Merlion Park.   Fireworks and parades abound.   If you happen to stick around until the beginning of February, you can enjoy the two-week festival of Chin Jie, or Chinese New Year.   This is a time of colourful markets, lavish family dinners, dragon dances, fireworks, and of course, shopping for gifts.  Singapore’s Chinatown holds large parades and street parties, but since Singapore has such a large Chinese population, celebrations are held just about everywhere. Various ornaments and flowers are use to denote different types of luck, which is why you’ll see pictures of koi fish (for success) and find plum blossoms (for luck) and chrysanthemums (for longevity) on sale at local markets. Dance, musical shows and floats take place throughout the period.

ICELAND

Icelanders call News Year Eve “Gamlarskrold”, marked by parties, feasts, and large bonfires – a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.   It is custom to welcome strangers into homes and celebrations, which makes it especially fun to be a tourist at this time of year.   Fireworks are everywhere, and particularly encouraged.   Large groups gather in communal feasts to celebrate with steaming drinks and song.   Reykjavik, the capital city, hums with celebrations throughout the night, holding one of the biggest fireworks displays anywhere on the planet.     If you’re hoping to party until sunrise, you’re in for a long night. This far north, the sun only comes up around mid-day, but during the darkness you might be lucky enough to welcome in the New Year under the Northern Lights.

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopia operates according to a different calendar, and a different clock. Unlike our Gregorian (or Western Calendar), they use the Orthodox Julian Calendar. Days are divided into two 12-hour blocks that begin at 6am Western time.   Entutatash, the Ethiopian New Year, takes place annually on our September 11th.  The Julian calendar is also several years ahead of ours, which is why the Millennium was celebrated in Ethiopia in 2007.     A tradition on Entutatash calls for bundles of dry leaves, sticks and wood to be collected as torches, and given to family and friends.   This served the same purpose as greeting cards, which younger people prefer to use these days.   Families enjoy meals of traditional stew served with injera (bread), tejj (honey wine) and tella (beer). Bunna (coffee) is served in a wonderful ceremony that slow roasts the beans, served in small cups to friends and family.

U.S.A

Watching the time ball drop in Times Square is perhaps the most well-known image Americans associate with New Years Eve.   The ritual has been copied in other famous New Years destinations, like Rio’s Copacabana, and Sydney Harbour in Australia.   Yet some American towns have taken the ball drop and modified it with local peculiarities.   In Orlando, they drop an orange. In Elmore, Ohio, they drop a sausage. In Memphis they drop a guitar, in New Orleans a pot of Gumbo. In Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, why a pickle of course!

ECUADOR

Like other parts of Latin America, Ecuador celebrates the New Year by the burning of effigies. Each effigy, made with paper or straw, is decorated to represent a person, an event, or anything from the previous year that needs a fiery send-off.     Come midnight, the matches are lit and the effigies burn, symbolically releasing emotions and anger.   The tradition dates back to pagan times, having being brought to the New World by Spanish colonists.   Julius Caesar noted around 40 BC that burning effigies were used by Gaul Druids to accompany human sacrifices. Apparently, the gods liked thieves and murderers placed in the middle. In Ecuador, an effigy might resemble an unpopular politician, but he’ll still be around to cause trouble in the New Year. Ecuadoreans might also wear yellow underwear to help attract good luck, along with eating 12 grapes (one wish per grape). One more tradition I’m particularly fond of: If you walk with a suitcase around the block, the New Year might bring you to a dream journey.

A Bucket List of the World’s Best Night Markets

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There’s simply no choice between a mall and a night market.   Instead of food courts, you have local cuisine cooked before your eyes. Instead of multinational clothing chains, you have handmade knits and knock-off fakes.   Instead of sterile hallways, you have cluttered narrow pathways full of smiles, smells, and secrets.   After shopping around, here’s our pick of the best:

  1. Luang Prabang, Laos

Night markets in Asia are usually loud and chaotic, yet my memory of this sleepy city’s night market, located along Sisavangvong Road, is one of calm. There is very little pushing and prodding to buy this or that, in stark contrast to markets found in neighbouring Thailand or Cambodia. Around 300 traders sell a wide range of goods – from pillows and covers to lanterns to cheap Beer Lao T-shirts, the perfect souvenir from Laos. Without the pressure, it’s almost impossible not to spend your kip, the local currency. It’s always advisable to haggle, and don’t expect the best quality.   Open daily, the market closes early at around 10pm.

  1. Queen Victoria Markets, Melbourne Australia

During the summer months, Melbourne has several vibrant night markets, gathering local artists, designers, traders, with food and entertainment from around the world. Every Wednesday November to March at the Queen Victoria Markets, on the corner of Peel and Victoria streets, you can find the popular Suzuki Night Market, with 35 ethnic food stalls, art, clothes, and jewelry traders. On Fridays in late January/February, you can shop away and enjoy the atmosphere at the Geelong Night Market in Johnstone Park.   Besides the stalls, there is also a health and harmony section, and licensed bars to enjoy a cool drink on a warm summer night.

  1. Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan

There are six major night markets in hot and sticky Taipei, with the most famous, and most notorious, being Huaxi, also known as Snake Alley. Once a legal red light district, Snake Alley is known for the exotic dishes served by its restaurants and stalls.   These include snake meat, including their blood or even their venom, milked from their fangs. There’s also turtle meat, deer penis soup, and other delicacies that draw tourists. Surrounding the market are stalls selling all manner of goods, proudly Made in Taiwan.

  1. Summer Night Market, Richmond, BC

During summer, some 300 traders set up stalls each weekend in Richmond, one of the growing satellite cities next to Vancouver.   Reflecting the multiculturalism of Richmond’s large immigrant population, the night market features strong Asian, Indian and Latin American influences. Grab yourself a bubble tea and catch a live salsa performance on the 60ft stage, or just roam the alleys looking for bargains on clothing, electronics and souvenirs. The market attracts some two million visitors a year, and often features themed nights, like Taste of Asia, or Chinese Karaoke Night.

  1. Chiang Mai Night Market, Thailand

Crammed into three blocks on Chan Klan Road, the night market and bazaar of Chiang Mai is extremely popular with visitors.   All manner of goods are on sale from traders packed on the sidewalks, or in purpose-built malls. Friendly tailors beckon you into their shops, old ladies fry up noodles, and lanterns cast a soft glow in the night. Operating every night of the year, the market is considered to be amongst the cheapest in the country.   Don’t expect lasting quality from the goods on sale, although I still have various candleholders and even some shirts I bought many years after my visit. Traders will typically start their price at double what you should pay, so remember to bargain.

  1. Batu Ferringhi Night Market, Penang, Malaysia

The Malay word for night market is “pasar malam”, a popular example of which can be found in Penang at Batu Ferringhi (literally, “Foreigner’s Rock”). Vendors in small stalls sell the usual knick knacks – clothes, shoes, accessories, bags, watches, jewelry, and other goods of authentic or dubious origins. The night market draws tourists with the sweet smells of local cuisine, and is close to a beach and pool area as well.   It sets up each day in the late afternoon and operates from 6pm until the customers thin out.  International hotels are located along the beach strip, with some directly facing the market.

  1. Christmas Market, Nuremburg, Germany

Every Xmas, markets pop up all over the Germany, differing from region to region. Frankfurt has the largest Christmas Market in Germany, along with the tallest Christmas tree. But the most famous Christmas market is in the Bavarian city of Nuremburg. This market is a popular place to pick up toys, ornaments and candles, along with treats like biscuits and sausages roasted over wood fires. Located throughout the old town, the market has nearly 200 wooden stalls, many sporting red and white cloth.   They even compete for the most beautiful and tasteful stall award. More than two million people visit it each year.

  1. Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a legendary destination, and its most popular night market doesn’t disappoint. There’s a wild variety of goods and services on offer, including fortune tellers, palm readers and impromptu Opera street performances. Open from 2pm onwards, the market is located on Temple Street next to the Jordan MTR station in Kowloon. As with most night markets, street food features prominently. Try some of the sticky sweet desserts and browse for electronics, antiques, and lamps. But remember, you break you buy

  1. Marrakech Night Market, Morocco

Enter the Jemaa El Fna night market near the heart of Marrakech’s medina, and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto a set of Indiana Jones. Expect a cacophony of snake charmers and monkey dancers, hagglers and hustlers, juice being freshly pressed over the sounds of salesmen beckoning their next client. Each night, over 100 open kitchens are set up, serving cheap but delicious Moroccan cuisines to patrons seated at long rows of wooden tables. Each kitchen typically serves one dish, and you might want to watch your food being cooked to avoid any tummy upsets later. The night market is open until 2am in summer, and around midnight in winter

  1. Donghuamen Night Market, Beijing, China

Here’s what I like about this particular night market: where else can you find rows of stalls featuring raw insects, scorpions, crickets, centipedes and lizards, ready to be deep fried in wok for your culinary enjoyment?   Sure, you can stick with dumplings, noodles or fresh fruit, but sometimes, you just find yourself craving a deep fried starfish.   All the prices are marked (in case you’re too hungry to haggle) and conveniently displayed in both Mandarin and English.   Don’t know about you, but I’m salivating at the thought of it!