Most students are familiar with local New Year’s Day traditions, including elaborate firework displays, promising resolutions, evenings with family and friends, and the Times Square Ball Drop. However, students may not know as much about the vastly diverse ways that New Year’s Day is celebrated around the world, as each culture offers unique traditions and activities.

Nowruz, meaning “new day,” is observed on the spring equinox by countries in the Balkans, Middle East, and Central Asia. The 13-day-long festival is rooted in Zoroastrianism—which emphasizes the importance of free will when choosing a side in the cosmic battle between good and evil—and originated in ancient Persia. Common practices during Nowruz include thoroughly cleaning houses, visiting family and friends, and exchanging wishes, gifts, and sweets. Many celebrants will also leap over a fire, which symbolizes a purge of the previous year’s bad experiences. The most prominent tradition, however, is the Haft-Seen Table, where families set out a special tablecloth and place symbolic items and dishes on top. Each item represents a different blessing for the new year, such as health, prosperity, rebirth, and good fortune.

Another tradition is the Lunar New Year, which has been celebrated widely across countries in East Asia for thousands of years. Centered around the lunar calendar, the 15-day event begins on the first new moon, which falls next year on February 10. Each Lunar New Year is tied to a zodiac animal that rotates in a 12-year cycle, the next of which is the dragon. In celebration, households honor their ancestors with food and display red paper with calligraphy messages of prosperity. Elders bestow envelopes containing money—known as red envelopes— to children. Popular dishes vary from country to country, but a common theme is a food made with glutinous rice, which represents togetherness. A few examples are Chinese tang yuan, or sweet rice balls, Korean tteokbokki, a type of spicy rice cake, and Vietnamese banh chung, a green rice cake with savory flavors.

The Ethiopian New Year, called Enkutatash, follows the 13-month calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church. As such, the actual New Year’s Day is equivalent to September 11 of the Gregorian Calendar. “Enkutatash” means “gift of the jewels,” a name that stems from the biblical story of King Solomon's gift of jewels to the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba. Though the holiday has religious origins, it is observed by people of all beliefs and faiths. In the morning, young girls perform traditional songs. In the evening, families build and light a bonfire, then celebrate until sunrise. During Enkutatash, the customary meal is chicken stew and injera, a fermented flatbread, accompanied by honeyed wine and coffee.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year, starting on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. On the Gregorian Calendar next year, the festival will last from sundown of October 2 to after nightfall of October 4. “Rosh” means “head,” and “hashanah” means year; put together, it is considered the day that God created Adam and Eve. On both mornings, a shofar, or a ram’s horn, is blown. Religious services are held throughout the day, where selections from a prayer book called the machzor are read. In the evenings, candle lightings are common as well as festive family meals. Traditional food includes round challah, a type of bread, and apples with honey. While Rosh Hashanah serves as a celebration full of rejoicing and happiness, setting time aside for contemplation and serious reflection is an important aspect of the holiday as well.

Though the American New Year’s Day along with its festivities has already passed, that’s not to say we can not still look forward to the exciting new celebrations that 2024 will bring all of us. Good luck following your resolutions, and happy new year!