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New Year’s traditions from around the world

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Published: 1 January 2021


Happy New Year from the University of Sunderland in London!

2020 has been difficult for all of us – in some ways, students more than many others.

You’ve worked extremely hard, adapted to online learning and kept your brilliant community alive and thriving all year despite some particularly difficult circumstances.

To start 2021, we thought we'd celebrate the University's wonderful international diversity by looking at how people around the world mark the new year. 

Scarecrow burning in Ecuador

Smiling scarecrow

Ecuadorians celebrate the new year through fire – filling scarecrows with paper and lighting them at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In an extension of that idea, they also set light to photographs of things representing the year just gone as a way of letting it go and looking forward to the future.

Breaking plates in Denmark

A broken plate

If you’re Danish, you might expect to wake up on 1st January to find a pile of broken dinner plates at your front door.

Each year, people in the Scandinavian country break their crockery outside their friends’ doors as a sign of good luck.

The more plates smashed, the more fortune you’ll have.

Eating grapes in Spain

A bunch of grapes

With every ring of the bell at midnight on New Year’s Day, people in Spain will each a grape.

The aim is to eat twelve by the final gong, which can lead to a lot of shoving fruit into mouths and, obviously, quite a bit of laughter too.

The centuries-old tradition developed as a symbol of luck for the New Year and is said to have started after a particularly good harvest as a way to get rid of extra stock.

Visiting friends in Scotland

Hand shake lights

If you live north of the border, you might expect to hear a knock on your door at midnight.

This is your friend coming to bring you good luck. The tradition, known at ‘first-footing’ says that the first person to enter your home on New Year’s will bring fortune with them.

Generally speaking, to be a proper first-footer, the person needs to be a tall, dark man and they should bring a gift of coins, whisky, food or coal.

Watching the ball drop in America

New York at the New Year's Ball Drop

Maybe one of the better-known New Year’s traditions, the dropping of huge metal or plastic balls at the stroke of midnight started about 100 years ago.

Some believe the idea was taken from maritime tradition where ‘time balls’ were dropped down poles at noon.

It would help ships to adjust their clocks to whatever time zone they were in. 

However you plan on celebrating New Year’s 2021, we want to thank you for being the brilliant, hardworking, dedicated students you are.

Have a happy, and safe, New Year’s and we’ll see you back in the classroom and online on Monday 4th January.

We’d love you to share your celebrations with us on social media – tag the University in your photos on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using #WeAreSunLon.

For all the latest news about University opening times and rules around COVID-19, visit our Guidance page.