Happy New Year Around the World


Bonne Année (French)

Buon Capodanno (Italian)

Feliz Año Nuevo (Spanish)

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar (Dutch)

Gott Nytt År (Swedish)

Gutes Neues Jahr (German)

Happy New Year (English)

The custom of celebrating the first day of the new year started in ancient Rome. On that day Janus, the one who the Romans believed had charge of gates and doors and of beginnings and endings, was honored. The month of January was named for him. On New Year’s Day the Romans gave each other presents.

People around the world have different customs for welcoming a new year. Boys and girls in Denmark save old broken cups, plates, and bowls. Then on New Year’s Day they drop them on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors. The more popular you are, the more broken dishes will be found on your doorstep.

French children look forward to the new year because that is the day they receive special gifts.

Children in Belgium also receive gifts, but this is combined with an unusual custom. The children gather keys to the rooms in their homes and then wait for a chance to lock an older person in one of the rooms. The grown-up must pay for his release by giving a gift to the boy or girl who has a key to the room.

People in Scotland believe that to be the first one to visit a house brings good luck to both the visitor and the household.

The Irish carry this custom even farther. They feel that to bring good luck, the first visitor to enter the house on New Year’s Day must be a tall dark-haired man.

On New Year’s Day in England during the eighteenth century, husbands gave their wives money to buy enough pins for the coming year. The custom disappeared later, but the term “pin money” still refers to small amounts of spending money. When the English people hear church bells, they open their doors to let the old year out and the new year in.

Another interesting custom that began in England long ago still survives. New Year’s Day was the time set aside for cleaning chimneys. It was believed that to do so would bring good luck to the household during the coming year. Today we say “cleaning the slate” rather than “cleaning the chimney.” This means to make resolutions to overcome faults and bad habits and to promise to improve in the new year.

What resolutions have you made for the new year 1974?

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Harston