New Year’s Eve – also known as Old Year’s Day or Saint Sylvester’s Day in many countries – is a time of celebration across the world as families and friends gather together to welcome in the New Year.
Kiribati, in the central Pacific Ocean, is the first inhabited to kick off the New Year followed an hour later by Auckland in New Zealand and moving round the world to end with the US minor outlying islands of Baker Island and Howland Island.
With fireworks, music and street parties often combine to spectacular effect in the world’s big cities, we take a look at some of the biggest and brightest celebrations.
Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to welcome New Year and its dazzling fireworks displays are among the most popular New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. In recent years more than a billion people have tuned in worldwide to watch the fireworks light up the sky above the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, with over 1 million people gathering on the waterfront to watch the 12 minute show, featuring around seven tonnes of fireworks, first hand.
New Year’s Eve comes with its own traditions in Japan including eating soba buckwheat noodles to ensure health and happiness for the coming year. Temple bells ring out 108 times at midnight – in line with Buddhist beliefs that human beings have 108 sins - to welcome in the New Year and across the country, the crowds stay up through the night to watch for the first sunrise of the year, which is believed to have special powers.
New Year’s Eve fireworks in Hong Kong may not be on the same scale as Chinese New Year Firewoks or the National Day Fireworks but they still put on a very colourful show. People usually gather in Central, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, to celebrate and to look at the night lights along the harbor. The Times Square shopping mall also holds its own New Year’s Eve ball drop event, mimicking the famous and much-watched event held at Times Square in New York City. Large scale outdoor NYE celebrations also take place in Mong Kok, Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin or Kwun Tong districts.
Dubai is not known for doing things by halves and its New Year’s Eve celebrations are no exception. In 2014, the city broke the Guinness record for the world’s largest pyrotechnic display with 500,000 fireworks in six minutes. The city's, New Year's fireworks are set off from Jumeirah Beach – home to the world’s most expensive hotel, the Burj Al Arab, and the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa. Among the highlights of the evening are musical performances on the Burj steps of the Burj Khalifa and the gala on the Burj Lake featuring a water, light and fire show.
Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year's Eve celebrations in all of Europe, attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate, where fireworks are set off at midnight. Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne. A popular tradition is foretelling the coming year, which is called as ‘Bleigiessen’. It is performed by dropping molten lead into cold water. The shape subsequently formed in the water is used as the basis for the predictions. For instance, a heart or ring shaped formation suggests marriage, a ship shaped formation points to a journey or travelling or a pig shaped formation indicates an abundance of food.
Nobody does New Year’s Eve celebrations quite like the Scottish. Every year hundreds of thousands of people brave the cold in Edinburgh to take part in Hogmany, which starts on the 30th December with a torch lit parade before giving way to street parties, fireworks and groups of people linking arms to sing Auld Lang Syne – coined by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. For those staying in to celebrate, once the clock has struck midnight, people visit their neighbours with shortbread or black bun – like a fruit cake – in a tradition known as first footing. In return guests are given glasses of whisky.
Image credit: Robbie Shade via Wikimedia Commons
New Year's Eve in London is celebrated along the banks of the River Thames where the London Eye and Big Ben are situated. The countdown is accompanied by the chimes of Big Ben. The first major New Year's Eve fireworks display in London was to celebrate the Millennium and now around 700,000 people brave the cold each year to watch the 10 minute extravaganza and enjoy the street parties around Trafalgar and Parliament Squares.
Crowds gather amid the neon lights of Times Square to await the ‘ball drop’. From 11:59pm, the Times Square Ball descends 141 feet (43 meters) in 60 seconds down a specially designed flagpole. When it reaches the bottom, a burst of fireworks signals the start of the New Year. In recent years, the festivities have been preceded by live entertainment, including performances by well know musicians. Around 1 million people flock to New York’s celebrations each year with many millions more watching on television.
While most people are happy to start their New Year’s fitness regime in January, San Francisco offers people the chance to get a head start with the New Year’s Eve One Day Run – a 24, 12 or 6 hour event on a 1.061 mile loop with views of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. For the less active, the city also puts on a colorful waterfront fireworks display viewed from the bank or from boats on the river.
The New Year, or Ano Novo in Portuguese, is one of Brazil's main holidays and officially marks the beginning of the summer holidays, which last until Carnival. Around 2 million people in Rio de Janeiro head to the beach – mainly Copacabana - for the spectacular fireworks, with many choosing to dress in white to bring good luck for the coming months. Amid the samba bands and live music, revelers are known to spray the crowds with champagne, take a dip in the sea to cleanse themselves for the New Year and throw trinkets in the sea, believing that their wishes will be granted if the objects don’t come back.