New Year's Eve brings people around the world together like no other holiday does. Many New Year's traditions revolve around the desire to start fresh -- often with a dash of good luck thrown in for good measure. Although traditions vary by culture, many are remarkably similar to each other, and all come with the hope that the new year will bring happiness.
Take the Plunge
Polar plunges -- where participants dunk themselves in freezing water -- are not all that uncommon, but in Russia and Siberia, they are an integral part of celebrating the new year. Celebrants plunge into a frozen lake while carrying something in their hands -- a tree trunk. This "New Year's tree" is placed under the ice for good luck.
Dress for Success
Red is a vibrant, energetic color and in Spain it is thought that wearing red underwear to welcome the new year will bring both good luck and prosperity. If you live in Brazil or Mexico you might want to switch to a different color. In those countries, people wear green underwear if they want good health, yellow if they want success or red if they are looking for love in the new year.
Do a Little Cleaning
In Japan, it's traditional to do a little cleaning and sweeping to "sweep out" the old and bring in the new. Don't sweep on New Year's Day, however, as you might accidentally remove some good luck. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the tradition goes a little further with the housecleaning and people get rid of old furniture on New Year's Eve -- sometimes by dumping it out the window.
Partake of Pork
Food is an important part of most holidays, and New Year's is no exception. Eating a dinner containing pork is considered good luck because pigs root forward when they search for food-- symbolizing moving forward into a new year. Chickens, on the other hand, scratch backward, so reach for the ham instead of frying up some wings. In Germany, people eat a meal of pork and lentils for good luck, according to Whole Foods Market.
Eat Some Peas
Peas are also an important part of a New Year's dinner, and black-eyed peas are usually the legumes of choice. Because they somewhat resemble coins, they are thought to bring prosperity. This tradition is practiced in the southern United States, where residents often eat a stew made of black-eyed peas on New Year's.
Down Some Grapes
One unique way to count the strokes of midnight at New Year's is to eat a grape for each chime of the clock. If you can eat all 12 grapes before the last chime fades -- one for each month of the year -- you will experience prosperity in the new year. This tradition originated in Latin America and Spain.
Sing a Song
In many countries -- primarily English-speaking countries -- it's traditional to sing a Scottish song called "Auld Lang Syne." Written in the 18th century, the song reminisces about days gone by but conveys optimism about the future.
Smooch Your Partner
It's traditional to kiss your partner right as the clock chimes at midnight on New Year's. This might be difficult if you are also partaking in the grape-eating ceremony, however. According to superstition, if you fail to lock lips, you will be doomed to a year of loneliness. The custom is thought to have originated in ancient Europe as a means of warding off evil spirits. Today it is practiced in many countries around the world, including the United States.
Set Off Fireworks
People around the world set off fireworks as the clock strikes midnight. Most major cities have elaborate displays, but small towns and individuals often join in the fun. Not all cities are known for their fireworks shows, however. New York City does something quite different.
Watch the Ball Drop
In 1906, New York City banned fireworks. As a replacement on New Year's, a large iron and wood ball was fitted onto the top of a pole in Times Square to slide down the pole as the clock ticked toward midnight. Today, the "ball" is composed of illuminated Waterford crystal, and Americans across the country celebrate the new year by counting down the seconds as the ball drops.