A Look at How New Year's Eve Is Celebrated Around the World
If you think about it, New Year's Eve is one of the only celebrations that we all share across the globe. No matter where you're from, there's plenty of cheer, lots of Champagne and other festive drinks, a great selection of food, and nearly every major city across the globe puts on a spectacular event to celebrate the occasion. Ask anyone in the United States and they'll be able to share a memory about the infamous ball drop that happens at midnight in New York City's Times Square—after all, its televised countdown serves as a backdrop to plenty of New Year's Eve parties across the country. But there are plenty of other iconic New Year's Eve scenes that you may not know of.
Believe it or not, the very first New Year's Eve celebrations have roots all the way back in Ancient Babylon. According to experts at the History Channel, it wasn't until Roman Emperor Julius Caesar introduced one of the first sophisticated calendar systems that January 1 became the very first day of the year. Romans celebrated the new year just as many of us do now: swapping gifts, decorating their homes with laurel branches, and throwing raucous parties.
How did the annual countdown and ball drop become synonymous with the celebrations, you might ask? According to PBS, the earliest New Year's Eve celebrations occurred at the Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan at the start of the 20th century, where spectators were treated to chiming bells at the stroke of midnight. But when early party goers used fireworks, it ended up showering hot ash on those on the street below—it wasn't until 1907 that the modern ball drop was invented to avoid the issue altogether.
Whether you're celebrating by staying in with family to watch Times Square's ball drop—or vacationing with friends abroad—New Year's Eve packs in some of the most exciting festivities of the holiday season. Here's a preview of New Year's celebrations that take place around the globe.
While Beijing rings in the new year alongside the rest of the world, citizens also celebrate a cultural observation of the Lunar New Year in early February. On New Year's Eve, however, there's plenty of vibrant fireworks to be seen, and Shanghai is among the many cities—including Beijing and Hong Kong—that put on a New Year's extravaganza. Shanghai's public fireworks show on the Bund promenade near the Huangpu River is accompanied by a 3-D laser lights show lighting up the surrounding areas across the city.
In Ecuador, New Year's Eve is a time where grievances and past mistakes are forgotten. According to Atlas Obscura, locals create effigies known as "año viejos" that are filled with messages representing the hardship of the last year—they're often cartoonish and sometimes can represent famous actors, politicians, and fictional characters. Then, these figurines are filled with fireworks and burned at midnight.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
The beaches in Rio host some of the most unique New Year's Eve gatherings in the whole world: People actually tread into the warm waters to take in the sights and countdown towards midnight. Last year, more than two million people jumped in for a dip at Copacabana, and watched fireworks kick off at midnight.
Cape Town, South Africa
There are almost too many parties to count on New Year's Eve on the beaches of South Africa. In Cape Town, however, there's a public concert series that always culminates on New Year's Eve, per the Cape Town Tourism Board—and if you're lucky, you'll catch views of coastal fireworks while taking in the live music in the outdoor amphitheater.
As one of the first major cities to ring in the new year, Sydney kicks off the worldwide New Year's Eve celebrations with a great deal of fanfare. Every year, fireworks grace the skies above the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House. While many choose to line up along the streets of the harbor to watch the largest fireworks show "down under," a fair amount of Australians hop into a boat and catch the show while bobbing in the harbor itself.
The streets of Jakarta turn into an open-air market as cars are removed from the streets and stalls open up to sell their products on New Year's Eve, according to the Jakarta Post. The nation's most spectacular fireworks event kicks off at National Monument right before midnight; the Indonesian Tourism Board says that there's plenty of establishments (including nearby beaches!) where you can take in the spectacular shows.
Seoul, South Korea
Many choose to celebrate both New Year's Day and the Lunar New Year in Korea, which is known as Seollal, and is considered more family-oriented than the celebrations that occur in January. According to Visit Korea, there are plenty of fireworks and festivities to see on New Year's Eve in major cities like Seoul, but many Koreans travel to mountainous regions in the countryside after midnight to participate in what's known as a sunrise festival, where people take in the first sunrise of the year together.
In a city with so many lights and colors ablaze, a dazzling fireworks display is to be expected. In and out of Tokyo, however, temples ring their bells more than 100 times at midnight to signify the sins associated with the Buddhist belief, per Japan Today. In the streets of the city, people can eat freshly made mochi, which is another New Year's Eve tradition for many Japanese citizens.
For Russians, New Year's Eve also happens to coincide with Christmas celebrations, which is due to the fact that the Soviet Union once banned Christmas altogether and that Orthodox Christmas is traditionally celebrated on January 7. According to Newsweek, those in Russia often spend New Year's Eve with their families and exchange gifts all evening long—for the littlest ones, Father Frost (or Ded Moroz) comes in the night to leave presents to open the next morning. The biggest party, however, takes place in Moscow's Red Square.
Normally, fireworks of any kind are banned in Germany's capital, but on New Year's Eve—what the Germans refer to as Silvester—Berlin lifts the ban, and many families take to the streets with small-scale dazzlers and pyrotechnics. The big show kicks off at midnight at the Brandenburg Gate, however, when millions gather to witness the show beneath the Quadriga sculpture pictured here.
It's one of the most iconic bridges in the world—and it also serves as the backdrop for an equally iconic New Year's Eve celebration. In full view of Big Ben and the rest of Central London, locals and tourists alike have to score a ticket to take in these sweeping views, which go on sale in September, according to Visit London. But if you fail to snag a ticket, don't worry: you can still board a boat on the Thames River and cruise beneath all the booming excitement all night long.