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Fun New Year’s Eve Traditions from Europe

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You surely have your own New Year’s Eve traditions like celebrating with noisemakers, a kiss at the stroke of midnight, or watching the ball drop in Times Square. As an American expat living in Europe, I am intrigued by the holiday traditions on this side of the Atlantic. Read on to learn about fascinating New Year’s Eve traditions from Europe and how these customs have influenced celebrations around the world.

Spanish champagne and the lucky 12 grapes ~ 3 Fun New Year's Eve Traditions from Europe
Eat 12 lucky grapes in Spain on New Year’s Eve (Photo credit: Deposit Photos)

New Year’s Eve Traditions in Spain

Spain has some delightful traditions for ensuring a happy New Year (Nochevieja in Spanish).

Lucky Charms

As in the United States and beyond, Spaniards drink sparkling wine at midnight on December 31st. For good fortune in the New Year in Spain, though, you need to drop a gold object into your champagne glass (such as a ring). Then you drink the cava from the glass and retrieve the lucky charm.

In Spain, revelers wear red underwear on New Year's Eve
Red lingerie for good luck in the following year in Spain Depositphotos.com)

Lucky Underwear

Spaniards also wear a lucky color underwear on New Year’s Eve. Red underwear is said to bring good luck. You can’t buy yourself these lucky panties, however. They must be given to you!

Grapes at Midnight

At midnight on New Year’s Eve in Spain, you should eat 12 green grapes, one for every strike of the clock. Each grape represents a month of the year and will give you good luck if you finish all dozen grapes in time. This fun tradition is carried out in public in the major squares in Spain’s cities.

My family members joined the Spaniards eating grapes at the Plaza Nueva in Seville when we were there for New Year’s Eve. I didn’t check to see what color underwear the revelers were wearing, though!

Fireworks in Copenhagen Denmark ~ Fun New Year's Eve Traditions from Europe
Fireworks in Copenhagen on New Year’s Eve (Photo credit: Deposit Photos)

How to Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Denmark

In Denmark, it’s tradition for the Queen to broadcast a speech to the Danish populace each New Year’s Eve. Then it’s time for the usual reveling and New Year celebrations.

Breaking Plates

You know how naughty tricksters might go egging on Halloween in the U.S.? Well, in Denmark they take throwing things at houses on New Year’s Eve to extreme lengths. The Danes save their broken plates during the year and then smash them against their friends’ doors on this holiday. The more broken crockery you have at your front door, the more popular you are.

Danes send good New Year's wishes to their neighbors with broken dishes
Danes send good New Year’s wishes to their neighbors with broken dishes (Photo credit: wernerimages, Depositphotos.com)

New Year’s Eve Fireworks

Fireworks were traditionally set off in many countries because their loud noise scared off evil spirits. Presumably, the evil spirits were not sufficiently scared off by some good Danish plate-throwing.

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle ~ New Year's Eve Traditions from Europe
Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle (Photo credit: Depositphotos.com)

Scottish Hogmanay Traditions

Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve in Scotland, is taken so seriously that the second of January is a holiday as well. It takes the Scots two days to recover from the Hogmanay celebrations.

Hogmanay probably has a pagan background coming from the Vikings’ influence. Moreover, for about 400 years, Scotland did not officially celebrate Christmas. After the Protestant Reformation, the Church of Scotland believed Christmas was a Roman Catholic festival. People only celebrated and exchanged presents at New Year. In fact, Christmas did not become a public holiday (and a day off from work) in Scotland until 1958.

Auld Lang Syne

Many of the old Scottish New Year’s Eve traditions are still practiced throughout the country. For example, right after midnight, everyone sings Auld Lang Syne, a Scottish poem turned folksong.

Traditional Scottish shortbread served at the start of the year
Traditional Scottish shortbread served at the start of the year (Photo credit: CogentMarketing, Depositphotos.com)

Scottish Luck in the New Year

For good luck in the new year, the first person who enters a house after midnight on New Year’s Eve in Scotland should bring a gift of whiskey or shortbread (or both!). There is a pecking order of luck, too, for the first person who enters. A tall dark-haired person is the best choice to show up on New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, it’s considered bad luck if a red-headed woman enters first on January 1st.

Torchlight and Fireballs

To scare away evil spirits, many Scottish towns and cities host firework displays, torchlight processions, and bonfires. The town of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire has a unique Fireballs custom. A procession of people swings balls of fire above their heads until they reach the harbor, where they dump the fireballs into the sea. Can you guess what music is played during this fiery cavalcade? No, not Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire…it’s traditional Scottish bagpipes, of course!

The pooping log, or tió de nadal, is a wacky Christmas tradition from Spain
The pooping log, or tió de nadal, is an unusual Christmas tradition from Catalonia, Spain (Photo credit: Justine Ancheta, Latitude 41)

Explore International Holiday Season Traditions

Read about a dozen unusual Christmas traditions from European countries like the golden pig from the Czech Republic or the log that poops small gifts for children on Christmas Eve in Catalonia.

Discover Christmas markets around the world you’ll want to visit in Europe’s capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France and beyond.

Celebrate the Christmas season with different traditions across many countries with the best White Christmas vacation ideas.

Learn about the winter holiday, Kwanzaa’s origins and traditions.

New Year's Eve Traditions from Europe

Save These European New Year’s Traditions

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Influential New Year's Eve Traditions for Europe

Do you know other fun New Year’s Eve traditions from Europe or other areas of the world? What is your favorite way to ring in the New Year? Let us know in the comments below!

About Shobha George, The Expat Travel Mama

Shobha George lives in London, England with her husband, two children (boy/girl twins) and dog. Although she grew up in New York, she has spent most of her adult life as an expat in Asia and Europe, which has been a great help in feeding her travel addiction. She and her family enjoy nice hotels, good food and other creature comforts. She is the author of Just Go Places blog. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at @justgoplaces.

Comments
  1. What an informative post. I did know about Some of these traditions. Very enjoyed to reading this:)

  2. LOL. I think the Scots were worried about Viking raiders who were generally tall blonde men. Vikings on your doorstep was never going to be a good day.

  3. Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly says

    I may be Latina, but I am with the Scots on this one I would prefer it if a “tall dark-haired man” walked through my door first too! LOL

  4. I just heard about eating grapes this year and cannot believe I’ve never heard about this before! New tradition for us!

  5. Eli@CoachDaddy says

    My middle kid and I usually complain about why we stay up so late on New Year’s, and not July 31 or Nov. 30. We also play the Game of Life on the Wii, and snack and have sparkling grape juice. I’m not ready to go to bed right away, so I stay up and … read blogs. This is perfect for my first post read of 2017! Such cool traditions I never knew about.

    I’d eat 12 tamales at midnight.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Reading blogs sounds like a great way to ring in the New Year to me! 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful 2017!

  6. I think it’s a pretty easy one to to but people have said gobbling down a grape for each chime (you have to finish in time) is harder than it sounds.

  7. I had never heard of the red panties or the grape thing before. Very interesting information!

  8. Seattle Travel Blogger says

    So many different traditions for New Year’s Eve! The green grape eating in Spain is a simple, yet inviting one!

  9. Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place says

    I absolutely love reading these traditions, its so cool to see how different cultures ring in the new year. My ancestors are from Scotland but i had no idea of their new years tradition though. We do have a shortbread recipe from my great great grandmother that we still make to this day, that was probably used for New Year’s traditions way back when.

  10. Sarah Bailey says

    I don’t really do any new years tradition’s I’ve heard of many over the years like sending someone with brown hair to be the first to knock on the door for luck, it is strange how and where they come from.

  11. Hubby would love to live in Scotland and invite everyone over after midnight just to collect all that whisky lol. What interesting traditions are had throughout the world!

  12. These are all really cool traditions to learn about. My area has its own new Year traditions, like eating cornbread and greens.

  13. Heidi Wagoner says

    Looks like we lucked out this year! We spent the past week in Edinburgh and just moved on to Aberdeen yesterday. We are going to try to make it to Stonehaven, weather permitting.

    • Shobha George, The Expat Travel Mama says

      I can’t wait to see your photos of the balls of fire! I’d love to spend Hogmanay in Scotland but it’s probably a little too crazy with our kids so young still.

  14. We have a family tradition of soending Christmas and New Year in a different country each year. So far we’ve done USA, Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Thailand, and UAE. The Germans are outrageous with their fireworks! I think everyone riding the metro with us was carrying about 10 kilos of personal fireworks! We’ll be partying on the beach in Abu Dhabi for NYE tomorrow.

  15. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says

    That is so cool! Why am I not surprised it takes the Scots two days to recover? They know how to party! LOL

    • Shobha George, The Expat Travel Mama says

      It’s probably easier to give an official bank holiday than it is to deal with most of the population pulling a sickie!

  16. It is a dream of mine to celebrate NYE in Edinburgh … they sure know how to party there!

    • Shobha George, The Expat Travel Mama says

      Definitely the Scots I have met do know how to party! Hogmanay is effectively a giant street party so I’m sure you’d love it.

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