On New Year’s Eve in the United States, we usually count down to the ball-drop in New York City’s Times Square and prepare for a wet one on the lips. Around the globe, however, it’s not all crystal balls and passionate midnight kisses when it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve. Various countries and cultures have their own special ways of ringing in the New Year. From beach bashes to polar bear dives, here we highlight just a few of the must-experience NYE festivities around the world.
Copacabana Beach, Brazil
Champagne douses the crowds as blaring Samba music drives the excitement at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. This Brazilian shoreline is the dance-’til-dawn kind of party, where celebrators dress in white for good luck, and throw flowers and gifts into the ocean for Yemanja, the goddess of the seas. Legend has it that if the offerings don’t float back to shore, the visitors’ wishes will come true.
During this massive late-night celebration, musicians and dancers perform on stages set up along the sandy strip. Once midnight rolls around, spectacular fireworks shoot into the sky from barges off-shore, while beachgoers spray champagne into the masses. The packed outdoor party rages on well into the early hours of the morning, but nearby nightclubs and bars also bring the festivities indoors.
Many countries are accustomed to signing “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but few revelers realize this song actually is a Hogmanay tradition. Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration of New Year’s Eve, and it dates back to pagan times.
The Torchlight Procession is another Hogmanay ritual, which kickstarts a multiday celebration. On the evening of December 30 in Edinburgh, a torch-bearing crowd lights the way from George IV Bridge to Calton Hill, where a fantastic fireworks finale shines over the hill. On the following evening, New Year’s Eve, revelers beeline to Princes Street for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party and the Concert in the Gardens. Live bands and DJs take center stage at the outdoor party, as fireworks burst into the sky and illuminate Edinburgh Castle. Tickets are needed for these events, so it’s important to register in advance.
How many grapes can you eat in 12 seconds? If you’re visiting Madrid, you better hope the answer is 12! Spain has a long-standing tradition in which participants eat a grape per every stroke of the clock at midnight. Those who manage to scarf down all 12 by the final bell’s toll are said to have a year’s worth of good luck.
This quirky NYE custom dates back to 1909, when the wine industry wanted to encourage the consumption of grapes during an especially large harvest. Whatever its lineage, the ritual remains strong, particularly in Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid on “Nochevieja,” or “old night.”
Just like a scene out of Times Square, merrymakers gather to ring in the New Year in front of the clock tower of Real Casa de Correos. Donned in colorful wigs and outrageous costumes, celebrators gobble down grapes and toast with cava sparkling wine when the clock strikes 12. The streets become a rowdy festival with fireworks, music, streamers, and confetti, while the local bars and nightclubs welcome partiers to dance the old night away.
Viewfinder Tip: If you’re planning to attend a ticketed New Year’s Eve event, book it now, as some parties may sell out in advance.
Not all NYE celebrations are about staying up late and partying into the wee hours of the morning. In the Netherlands, it’s a Dutch tradition to celebrate “Unox Nieuwjaarsduik,” the New Year’s Day dive, on January 1.
Since 1960, crowds have stormed the North Sea in the town of Scheveningen to brave the frigid water in their skivvies, swimsuits, or crazy costumes. Since then, the wacky tradition has gained a strong following, as thousands now participate in the event and pay a small fee that goes to charity. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m., and the fearless warriors take the plunge at noon sharp.
You don’t have to be in Scheveningen to welcome the upcoming year with a frosty dip, though. People across the country partake in this chilly custom by creating their own polar bear dives in bodies of water all over the Netherlands. Whether it’s a cleansing ritual for the year ahead or a hangover cure from celebrations the night before, the Dutch know how to make a splash into the New Year.
As the clock ticks toward the stroke of midnight on the eve of 2015, folks across the globe will be reaching for their grapes, dancing on the beach, or celebrating with their unique traditions. This December 31, give your own NYE rituals a rest and travel to one of these destinations to experience a whole new way of greeting the year to come.
What’s your favorite New Year’s Eve tradition?