21 Delightful Photos Of People Celebrating New Year’s Around The World

Published December 29, 2015
Updated November 7, 2023

From epic water fights in Thailand to a solemn Aztec ceremony in Mexico, people around the world mark the new year in many different ways.

At the stroke of midnight at the end of each year, the world welcomes another loop around the Sun. Though the traditional champagne toast on December 31st is one way to celebrate, some countries ring in the new year on different dates — with celebrations that are totally unique to their culture.

From Thailand’s epic water fights to the Aztec flag-burning ritual, take a look at the colorful, boisterous, and sometimes spiritual ways that the world’s cultures enter a new year.

Chinese New Year Dragon Dance
Ang Pao
Seollal Korean New Year Family Reunion
New Year Around The World Tibet
21 Delightful Photos Of People Celebrating New Year’s Around The World
View Gallery

The Origins Of Celebrating The New Year

Matariki Festival

Hannah Peters/Getty ImagesHuge kites are launched as part of the Matariki Festival, which marks the Māori New Year in New Zealand.

The coming of a new year is widely celebrated among the world's population. New Year's Eve around the world is usually marked with a night filled with good food, celebratory drinks, and flashy fireworks.

New Year's parties may seem like a modern-day invention, but the origins of celebrating a new year can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted by most of the modern world, New Year's Day wasn't celebrated on the first of January as is common today.

The earliest known New Year's celebration was thrown in ancient Mesopotamia by the Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. For them, the new year was tied to their religion and mythology.

It fell on the first new moon after the vernal equinox when the Earth received an equal amount of sunlight and darkness following the changing seasons.

It was considered the "rebirth of the natural world" and was celebrated by the Babylonians with a religious festival that lasted 11 days called Akitu. The name comes from the Sumerian word for "barley" which was commonly cut in the Spring, around the same time their New Year's Day would take place.

By Gregorian calendar standards, this New Year's Day would fall somewhere in March. Part of the celebration included parading statues of their gods through the streets and preists enacting spiritual rites.

In Rome, Julius Caesar instituted the first New Year's Day celebrations on January 1 in 46 B.C. when he introduced the Julian calendar. Caesar's calendar was based on a solar model and was very close to the Gregorian calendar used today.

But by the Middle Ages, the Church saw the first day of January as a day of pagan celebration. New year festivities on this date were abolished in 567 AD in favor of dates that were considered more in agreement with Christianity, such as Christmas Day on December 25.

In 1582, the first of January was reestablished as New Year's Day by Pope Gregory XIII, and it has remained so ever since.

New Year's Around The World

Songkran Water Fight

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP via Getty ImagesElephants and their handlers enjoy spraying water on bystanders during the Songkran festival in Thailand.

Even with the wide adoption of the Gregorian calendar, depending on their culture and which calendar they follow, some New Year's traditions around the world have endured today. They continue to be celebrated culturally as a matter of tradition.

For example, some Indigenous Nahua communities in Mexico celebrate Año Nuevo Azteca or the Aztec New Year based on the ancient calendar of the Aztecs. The momentous occasion, also known as Yancuic Xihuitl, is based on the spring equinox and takes place nine days before then.

The Aztec New Year's Day is celebrated with the lighting of ocote, or pitch-pine candles, and fireworks on the night before. Community members dress in their traditional regalia and perform ceremonial songs and dances, and make loud noises using seashells.

At the end of the festivities, some pulque, or liquor from a type of cactus called magüey is sprinkled to embrace the new year.

Another unique New Year's tradition around the world is Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year. It is celebrated based on the ancient Chinese calendar that can be traced back to the 14th-century B.C., but may actually be much older. The Chinese Lunar calendar is calculated based on the cycle of the moon and the Earth's orbit around the Sun.

According to Chinese legend, a mythical beast known as Nian preyed on livestock and villagers. A wise man figured out that the people could defend themselves by making loud noises using firecrackers and decorating their houses with the color red. They also made sure to put food outside their doorway to keep the beast at bay.

The Chinese New Year — also known as the Spring Festival — is still a big deal among Chinese communities and is celebrated with firecrackers, red ornaments, and gifting money in red envelopes known as ang pao. The festivities last over one to two weeks beginning on the first day of the first Chinese calendar month.

More New Year's celebrations across the globe can be seen in the gallery above. As folks ring in the new year around the world, practicing different traditions and cultures, the thread of new beginnings connects us all.

Now that you've learned about celebrating New Year's around the world, read the disturbing history of North Korea's underground tradition of gifting crystal meth to mark the new year. Then, take a look at the various calendars created throughout history.

Natasha Ishak
A former staff writer for All That's Interesting, Natasha Ishak holds a Master's in journalism from Emerson College and her work has appeared in VICE, Insider, Vox, and Harvard's Nieman Lab.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.