A European New Year’s Eve

A European New Year’s Eve

by Stripes Staff
Stripes Europe

5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Happy New Year!

New Year’s is one of the only holidays celebrated by nearly every country and is almost universally a time for family, friends and festivities. For most, the traditions that usher in the new year are fairly simple: a hug/kiss to loved ones and a toast of champagne to the year ahead. Fireworks have always played a large part in New Year’s celebrations in Europe, and today many larger European cities host their own magnificent displays. While most European countries follow the same simple rituals, they are often accompanied by other traditions specific to their country.


German New Year’s Eve is also referred to as Sylvester. Named after a fourth-century pope, the Feast of Saint Sylvester falls on December 31st. Saint Sylvester left a memorable mark in history after allegedly healing from leprosy and baptizing the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. 

At midnight, the skies erupt with fireworks. Everyone from young kids to grandparents can be seen setting off their own private show. A traditional menu for staying in and entertaining may consist of serving carp or herring, along with cabbage and carrots to bring in financial stability. Meat and cheese fondues are other popular options. Customary drinks of the evening are “Sekt” (sparkling wine) or “Feuerzangenbowle” (flaming fire tongs punch). 


London boasts one of the most distinctive displays of fireworks, centered on Big Ben and the London Eye. In Wales, it is believed that all debts must be paid off, or you’ll be in debt the whole year. Similarly, your behavior on New Year’s Eve indicates how you’ll behave next year, such as waking early foretelling that you’ll be an early riser. In England, Scotland and Wales, the song “Auld Lang Syne” can be heard throughout the streets as friends and families stand in a circle and cross hands.


In Denmark, chipped and unwanted dishes are smashed against the front doors of friends’ homes in the evening. According to tradition, the larger the pile on your front door, the more popular you are. The reading of a New Year’s verse is also a tradition for some countries. In Finland, the poem “Hymyilevä Apollo” (“Smiling Apollo”) by Elino Leino is recited on the radio after midnight, and in Sweden, Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells” is read.

Portugal & Spain

Madeira, an island off Portugal, is also well-known for New Year’s festivities, recognized in the Guinness World Records for having the largest fireworks show in the world. In Spain and Portugal, 12 grapes or raisins are eaten with each second in the countdown to midnight (starting from 12 seconds until midnight instead of the more common 10). Traditionally, each piece of fruit is said to represent prosperity each month of the new year, although the custom may have originated from the grape growers in Alicante in 1909 who wanted to find a way to cut down on their surplus.


This city’s reputation as “party central” is confirmed each New Year’s Eve. Oudjaarsavond, or Old Year’s Evening, is celebrated throughout the city. Clubs, bars and restaurants host parties, often with themes and special menus. Advance tickets are usually required, so plan ahead. The heart of the city’s celebration is a free fest at Museumplein, featuring live music and fireworks. Watch the fireworks display over the Amstel River from Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge).


The Scots call New Year’s celebrations “Hogmanay,” but to tell you why is a convoluted story. The term’s history is a bit fuzzy after a few hundred years of partying. Thousands of revelers with torches, led by a crew of Vikings and Scottish highlanders, will march from St. Giles’ Cathedral to Calton Hill, creating a river of flames and concluding with a firework display. The procession and firework display are free for spectators; tickets are required to carry torches.

No matter where you choose to celebrate, have fun, be safe and spend time with those you love, or party with total strangers! Make plans, ponder possible New Year’s resolutions and let the countdown begin.

Feeling lucky? Check out these European New Year’s superstitions
In Italy, Spain and Turkey, red undergarments are to be worn for good luck, although it’s debated whether they should be a gift and/or thrown out afterward.

In Hungary, “onion-calendars” are made by cutting onions in half, peeling off 12 layers, arranging them in order by month and sprinkling salt on them. If the salt melts on a layer, then the corresponding month will be rainy.

In Germany, chimney sweeps are considered lucky, and it is encouraged to have one rub soot on your head. Other lucky charms include four-leaf clovers, ladybugs and marzipan pigs.

In Ireland, loaves of bread are banged on doors and walls to chase out bad luck and protect against hunger in the New Year.

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