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7 international New Year’s Eve traditions to try at home this year

With travel off the table in 2020, we’re bringing these customs from around the world to us


(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

In years past, many people would travel over New Year’s Eve and immerse themselves in a different culture. Countries around the world ring in the new year with unique customs and traditions, often carried out at the strike of midnight. But that option is off the table this year, thanks to 2020′s endless gloom.

To celebrate the spirit of travel from home, we rounded up ways to bring international New Year’s Eve experiences to you.

Japan: Eat toshikoshi soba

Shiwasu is the end-of-the-year period in Japan, filled by many traditions like traveling to see family, attending parties and thoroughly cleaning your home. To commemorate New Year’s Eve, people eat toshikoshi soba, or “year-crossing” soba, which can symbolize having a long and fortunate life along with a clean break from the year. And if there’s a year we need a clean break from, it’s 2020.

Denmark: Jump off a chair

In Denmark, one does not simply let the new year happen. You go on the offense and jump into it. Just before midnight, stop what you’re doing and get on a chair to execute the jump like a Dane would.

Should you forget to jump, it’s said that you’ll bring bad luck for the following year, so please, we’re begging you — do not forget to jump.

Spain: Eat 12 grapes

Perhaps the easiest tradition to carry out is eating grapes for good luck. The tradition began in Spain, but it is now practiced around the world, particularly in Central and South America.

Here’s how to do it yourself: Have 12 grapes, known as las doce uvas de la suerte, handy. When the clock starts chiming at midnight, eat one with each clang.

Bonus points if you’re wearing special New Year’s Eve underwear while eating your grapes. A pair of red underwear can bring you a new year of love, while yellow may bring joy and fortune.

Costa Rica: Run your suitcase around the block

Put your 2021 travel ambitions into the universe by celebrating the new year like a Costa Rican. (The tradition is popular across Latin America.) At midnight, it’s tradition to grab a suitcase and run around the block in the hopes of traveling in the new year.

“The farther we run with our suitcases, my family always says, the farther we’ll travel in the new year,” writes Washington Post reporter, Samantha Schmidt, who has spent New Year’s Eve with her extended family in Costa Rica every year since she was born. “We all do it — from my toddler cousins to my eldest aunts in their high heels. Our neighbors always cheer us on, shouting ‘Feliz Año Nuevo!’ and sometimes join in, as fireworks shoot off in all directions.”

Greece: Hang some onions

If you’ve been cooking throughout the pandemic, maybe you have some onions around the house to spare for this tradition. In Greece, onions symbolize rebirth, so people hang them up on their doors on Dec. 31 to encourage a year of growth. Keep the Greek traditions going by baking a vasilopita on New Year’s Day. Hide a coin in the cake and share it with your loved ones — whoever finds the coin is said to have a year of good luck.

Ecuador: Burn effigies

In Ecuador and other parts of Central and South America, New Year’s Eve heats up when midnight strikes. People head outside to burn effigies that symbolize the year. By lighting the effigy on fire, you’re letting the bad of the year go and moving onto the next.

Our nominations for effigies to burn as we say goodbye to 2020 include a doll made out of any ratty face masks or a list of pandemic cliches, like “out of an abundance of caution.” Just remember that there are obvious risks to lighting something on fire. If you live somewhere with a high risk of wildfires, for example, consider this next tradition instead …

Russia: Burn, then drink, your wishes

After a year of ruined dreams and canceled plans, set your sights on a fresh start with this Russian tradition. Before midnight, write down your wishes for 2021 on a piece of paper, then light the paper on fire. Once it’s stopped burning, sprinkle the wish-filled ashes into a glass of champagne and drink up after the clock strikes midnight.

Read more:

Tips: Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Using Uber and Airbnb | Traveling tools

Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on plane | Fly or drive

Road Trip: Tips | Rental cars | Long-haul trains

Holidays: Parades and light shows | Safe holiday travel | Planning a ski trip | Canceling flights