14 Classic New Year's Eve Traditions We Learned From Our Grandparents
As we look ahead to 2020, we're also reflecting on the good old days. New Year's may be all about looking ahead, but there's something undeniably nostalgic about the holiday that falls at midnight on December 31. After all, the iconic New Year's Eve song "Auld Lang Syne" roughly translates to "old long since," or "times gone by." There are so many interesting and classic New Year's Eve traditions that your grandparents probably practiced each and every year, from New Year decorations to classy New Year's Eve dinner ideas and New Year's superstitions, that we wish would make a comeback.
If you agree, we've got the best New Year's Eve traditions right here to help ring in 2020. Love them or hate them, it's not a new year without making resolutions—bonus points if you end up sticking with them! And even though you may think of your grandparents as they are now, don't think they weren't having a good time on New Year's Eve when they were your age. Channel their merriment with noisemakers, tossing tinsel, toasting with cocktails, and looking good while doing it. Yes, you may not feel like dressing up in the middle of winter, but just imagining the snazzy suits and cocktail dresses that went hand in hand with going to a New Year's Eve party decades ago will get you in the spirit.
Make New Year's Resolutions
It wasn't all tinsel and tipples for good old Gram. Making resolutions is perhaps the most popular New Year's tradition, but previous generations in particular practiced the art of setting goals for the upcoming year.
...and Actually Keep Them!
More importantly, your predecessors likely stuck to their goals. This year, we resolve to have the perseverance of our parents' parents.
Decorate a New Year's Tree
Who says the fun has to end after Christmas? The tradition of the New Year's tree goes all the way back to the 1600s, and you can easily transition your Tannenbaum to suit the celebrations.
"When you look at old photos of our parents and grandparents, you see that everyone is dressed nicely at big holiday gatherings," Lizzie Post, cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, told us of Christmas traditions back in the day. The same goes for New Year's Eve celebrations. What better occasion is there to break out a cocktail dress or suit?
Toss Tinsel Everywhere
The sparkly streamers have lost steam in recent years, but there's just nothing like loads of the vintage holiday decorations for adding glamour to your gathering.
Embrace Your Heritage
The way your grandparents commemorated the New Year might have something to do with your roots. In Scotland, New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay, as they call the last day of the year, is a bigger deal than Christmas ("Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish song, after all). The massive party goes on for days and incorporates age-old acts, such as first-footing. It's considered good luck to have a tall, dark man enter the home for the first time after midnight—bearing auspicious gifts, of course (coal, shortbread, salt, and whiskey are common). Germany has Bleigiessen, a "lead-pouring" custom, and the Irish apparently bang bread against the walls to beat off bad luck. You could also coordinate your underwear to your hopes for the year (red for love, yellow for happiness, and so on)—a Latin American custom. Start calling your Christmas tree a New Year's tree, as they do in Russia, dive into icy waters like in Konstanz, Germany, or similarly, participate in a Canadian-inspired polar bear plunge.
Eat New Year's Food
Yes, there are even New Year's Eve food traditions. Different cultures consider certain foods to be fortuitous for the New Year, especially when eaten right as the clock strikes 12. In Chili, it's lentils, while in Spain, it's 12 white grapes. In case you needed any excuse to indulge in doughnuts and pretzels, several cultures believe ring-shaped foods represent coming full circle. And on New Year's Day, the traditional Southern spread consists of black-eyed peas and collard greens (symbols for wealth—coins and green folding money, respectively), ham or pork (for prosperity), and cornbread (for gold). We love our Louisiana Hoppin' John recipe, which incorporates all three.
It's fitting that the first day of the new year would have some religious significance, even if it has nothing to do with the calendar resetting. Some Christian churches (particularly in African-American communities) host "Watch Night" services, a tradition tied to the Emancipation Proclamation. For Catholics, January 1st, or the Solemnity of Mary, is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning they have to attend mass on New Year's Day. However, knowing that revelers will be out late the night before, many churches offer a vigil Mass option on New Year's Eve as well.
Toast with a Traditional Drink
Sure, Champagne has become the New Year's Eve drink of choice, but your grandparents might have clinked coupes filled with Wassail, a special cider-like punch with English origins, a "hot pint," the Scottish spin, or mulled wine, Holland's traditional drink, instead of the bubbly beverage.
Make Some Noise
There's a longstanding tradition of starting the new year off with a bang. Only, instead of shooting guns, as was common in the American colonies, Grandma and Grandpa blew noise horns, rang bells (a nod to church bells), and set off fireworks (a Chinese New Year custom).
Give a Gift
In the past, the gift giving season didn't stop at Christmas! Handing out gilded coins or nuts was an old Roman ritual, according to the The Old Farmer's Almanac, but you could also give eggs for fertility, a Persian practice. Just as in their first-footing tradition, the Scottish apparently also traded shortbread, coal, and silverware, while Egyptians' specialty was earthenware flasks.
Countdown and Kiss at Midnight
We know that people still do this, but the reasoning behind it bears repeating: "Kiss the person you hope to keep kissing," as the saying goes.