New Year’s Traditions Across Europe

December 21, 2017

New Year is a time for celebration, and wherever you go in Europe you’ll find plenty of fireworks and partying to welcome the changing year. But you’ll also find some fascinating and unique national traditions, from crockery smashing to eating 12 spoonfuls of lentils. If you fancy a change from singing a half-remembered rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the clock strikes midnight, take a look these unusual New Year’s traditions from across Europe.


In Belgium, New Year’s Eve is known as Saint Sylvester’s Day, celebrating the eponymous 4th century pope. One Belgian tradition says that an unmarried woman who doesn’t finish her work by sunset on New Year’s Eve won’t get married until next year. Another sees children reading out letters that they’ve written to their families, wishing them well and promising good behaviour in the new year.


Dutch celebrations tend to include a great deal of fireworks, as well as roaring bonfires. A towering New Year’s Eve bonfire in Scheveningen even set a world record in 2015/2016, pushing a rival celebration further along the coast at Duindorp to increase the size of their blaze. A more lowkey tradition is the oliebollen, a kind of Dutch doughnut you’ll find served on nearly every street corner. There’s even an annual contest for the best oliebollen stand in the country.


Just as Queen Elizabeth II gives her annual address on Christmas Day, the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, gives her televised address on New Year’s Eve, generally seen as the kick-off for the celebrations. There’s plenty of partying right through the night, which includes the eating of Kransekage a towering cake made up of marzipan rings. There’s also a tradition where Danes wish their neighbours and friends goodwill in the new year by smashing crockery on their doorstep. So the more people care about you, the more cleaning up you’re going to have to do in the new year.


New Year’s Eve in France sees people enjoying a feast similar to the traditional le reveillon feast of Christmas Eve, though with the welcome addition of champagne. Midnight will likely bring a kiss on both cheeks, and shouts of bonne année, though fireworks tend to be confined to officially organised events. On New Year’s Day you can enjoy one of the many parades, including La Grande Parade in Paris. If you stick around until the first Sunday of the new year, you might get a slice of gallate des rois, a traditional cake that has a ring or a token inside that grants the finder the right to be queen or king for a day.


One of Germany’s most unusual traditions is the showing of the short comedy film Dinner for One (or The 90th Birthday) on TV every New Year’s Eve. It’s actually a British production from 1963, but you’d be lucky to find anyone in the UK who’s heard of it. The 18-minute sketch features a wealthy old spinster and her butler who performs the role of her guests, and in 1988 it achieved the record of the most repeated TV show ever. Naturally it still holds that record by some way in 2017.

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