Most Americans will spend the last night of the year attending a party dressed in head-to-toe sequins, watching the ball drop in Times Square, or hoping to get a kiss from a crush or even a stranger. Compared to the meaning, story, and ritual attached to Christmas, do these traditions not strike you as bizarre? But we’re not alone. Weird New Year’s traditions abound all around the world. And they exist as creative ways to offer families and friends a sense of identity, connection, and belonging, to create memories, bring healing, cultivate gratitude, teach core values, and even to deepen our faith. If you’re looking to add more meaning and spunk to your holiday celebrations, consider these seven suggestions.
ACCEPT A VISIT FROM A HANDSOME STRANGER
The Scots believe the first person to cross the threshold of their home in the new year should be a dark, handsome man dressed in a kilt or black tie. He should come bearing gifts: coal to symbolize warmth, a loaf of bread for healthy food, a bottle of Scotch for prosperity, and salt to remind us that goodness does not come absent of sadness.
This sounds like a great tradition for all the single ladies—are you with me? If you’re looking to add more warmth and happiness to your New Year’s festivities, try inviting someone without a family or a home to celebrate the holiday with you. Or, if you’re the one without a family for the holidays, don’t wait for an invitation. Gather your own group of friends, acquaintances, co-workers, or lonely strangers. Because as the Scots observe, goodness coexists with sadness and difficulty, but therein lies the beautiful, redemptive quality of life that God is showing us everyday.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the world the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
TRAVEL THROUGH TIME
Travel often comes with a suitcase full of souvenirs and a headful of memories. Maybe that’s why Colombians, and other South American cultures, ensure a year full of travel by running around their houses toting a suitcase on New Year’s Day. This is a good idea for someone who suffers from wanderlust, but maybe not so great for the homebodies among us.
Play on this fun tradition by creating a time capsule. You could, literally, collect a suitcase full of memories, or have each member of your family or friend group select and caption a few photos they feel best encapsulate the passing year. Compile these photos into a book and print a copy for each person. Online photo companies like Snapfish, Mixbook, or Shutterfly make this kind of project fast and easy. Then look through each book when the next new year rolls around.
“Remember the wonders he has done” (Psalm 105:5a).
GO BACK TO THE FUTURE
New Year’s in Russia holds similar importance as Christmas does to Westerners. It’s been described as a mash up of Christmas and Thanksgiving. One of their traditions is to write a wish on a piece of paper, burn it, and mix the ashes with champagne to drink at midnight.
If you don’t like the taste of carcinogens, another fun option is to create an annual forecast for your family or friends. One-by-one, share a hope, word of affirmation, or prayer for the new year for each person present. Record them in a Smart phone or designated notebook, then look over them the next year to see which ones came to fruition and how each person has grown. This is a great way to both encourage and challenge one another.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
DON’T FORGET YOUR LUCKY UNDERWEAR
Some people have lucky socks. Venezuelans, and other South American cultures, believe in lucky underwear! They enter the new year displaying bright underwear, either over their clothes or with no pants at all. In another variation of this tradition, the color of the undergarment worn into the new year is said to hold special meaning: red or pink brings love, gold or yellow brings wealth, and tidy whities bring peaceful tidings.
If you’re uncomfortable with being visualized in your unmentionables, create a vision board, instead. This is a fun activity to do alone, in a group, or even with friends and family over Skype. Select a number of goals or resolutions, a word, a phrase, or a Bible verse as a theme for the new year, then cut out images from magazines that represent what you hope to achieve. Grab a cork board and some push pins to create your collage. Hang your board somewhere prominent to remind you of your annual vision. Whether you’re consciously working toward these goals or not, by keeping them in the forefront you may be surprised by how many of them you achieve by the end of the year.
“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained. But happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).
JUMP INTO THE NEW YEAR
In Denmark, people are said to jump off a chair at the stroke of midnight, as a way to leave all bad omens behind and land into the fresh start of a new year. If you’d rather not teach your kids to jump off the good furniture, grab a step stool and play a game of High Low, instead.
Have each person take a turn on the step stool to share a low point and a high point of their past year before taking a mini leap. Discuss how you’ve seen God’s blessing or provision through each situation and what you’d like to do differently next year. To add some laughs, take a picture of each person’s jump—the sillier the better—to commemorate their new year and new commitment. Or, if you’re really adventurous, try this game on a trampoline! To add more meaning, record each high and low (including the pictures) to review the following year.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worried in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7–8).
DON’T EAT SOUR GRAPES
Mexican’s, and other South American cultures, welcome the new year with a bunch of grapes. They eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight, and make a wish for each one. But don’t eat sour grapes! They indicate a particularly unlucky month.
If you feel the glycemic index of grapes is just too high for your blood sugar, create a 12 Before 12 list. That’s one thing you want to accomplish each month of the new year. This could be memorizing a passage of scripture each month, doing a Bible character study on Jesus’s 12 disciples, resolving to handwrite a note of appreciation to someone in your life, or identifying 12 service projects you want to complete in the coming year.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 6:3).
In Germany, eating pork and sauerkraut on News Year’s Eve is believed to bring blessings and wealth for the year ahead. Pork is a symbol of good luck and well-being. Those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the shreds of cabbage in the kraut.
For a tradition that’s both sweet and “sauer”, make your own sauerkraut. Shred a few heads of cabbage to ferment in brine from Christmas to New Years. Then create a gratitude log, listing as many things you are grateful for as the shreds of cabbage on your plate. Or, to get the thanks and creativity rolling, create a gratitude survey. Include questions like What was the best thing that happened to you this year? What are three ways you were uniquely blessed this year? When was a time a family member came through for you this year? What will you remember most about this year? Share your answers until all the shreds of cabbage are gone from your plates.
“Give thanks in all circumstance; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What are you doing New Year’s Eve?