Time zones aren’t the only thing that differentiate New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world. While Pacific islands like Samoa and Kiribati get to welcome the new year before anyone else, and New York has the iconic Times Square ball drop, there are lots of cultures that boast unique drinking traditions. From the enviable to the downright odd, here’s how countries around the world toast the new year.
In Scotland, the first guest after midnight brings the whisky
At most New Year’s Eve parties, you want the first guest to bring booze so you have plenty to drink while you wait for midnight. But in Scotland, where they celebrate Hogmanay on December 31, the first guest who enters after midnight is even more important. The so-called “first footer” decides a lot about the luck of the household for the coming year, bringing gifts like whisky (along with less desirable, more ceremonial gifts like a coin, bread, salt and/or coal) to grant good fortune. We say play it safe—tell all your guests to bring whisky, just in case they arrive after midnight.
In Russia, they burn their wishes and drink the ashes
Plenty of cultures write and burn messages—hopes, regrets, I.O.U.s—to achieve solace, but only in Russia do they drink the sooty remnants. In order to really internalize their hopeful wishes for the coming year, Russians scrawl them down, burn the paper, pour the ashes into their Champagne, and chug it right at midnight. Good fortunes never tasted so bitter.
In Spain, they drop gold into their Cava
The Spanish like their local bubbly so much, they put a ring in it—well, at least a coin or anything else gold. The gold symbolizes wealth (and general good fortune) in the new year, but the magic only works if you drink the whole glass down after a midnight toast and retrieve the object. Just be careful not to swallow it, or else your belly might feel pretty unlucky.
In China, they play a dice drinking game
Chinese drinkers find fun ways to down baijiu on plenty of holidays, but during the Chinese New Year, drinking games are a must. While a dice game like the ever popular Liar’s Dice would technically be played sometime in January or February, depending on when the Chinese New Year falls, we think it makes a great multicultural excuse to drink on December 31, as well.
The rules of Liar’s Dice are pretty simple: Each round begins with everyone shaking a cup of five dice and slamming it down to cover the dice. Players then have to call out a number on their dice and how many of that number they have—for instance “two fives.” Other players can either accept the statement or call that player out for lying, at which point the round ends. If the dice holder was lying, they drink. If they were telling the truth, the accuser drinks. The real trick comes as players proceed around the circle each round. Each subsequent player must claim to have a higher number of dice than the last player—i.e., “two fives” has to be followed by “three twos” or “three fours” or “four ones.” Between the lying, optional wild numbers and some good-natured cheating, the game can get pretty intense.
In Germany, they eat rum-filled doughnuts
New Year’s Eve is all about indulgence to send off the year with a blast (before the inevitable regret sets in on January 1 and you begrudgingly sign up for the gym). In Germany, they celebrate the over-the-top holiday with Berliner Pfannkuchen, which translates literally to “Berlin pancake” but is actually closer to a doughnut filled with jelly or—more appealing to New Year’s drinkers—rum icing.
In Japan, they share sake cups with their elders
Sharing is caring, especially if you’re sharing your drink and your life force. You can’t drink otoso, a spiced sake reserved for New Year’s, just like any other rice wine. After steeping herbs and spices in sake overnight and warming the mixture on the morning of New Year's Day, families share three special cups, passing the sake from youngest to oldest so that the elders can absorb vitality from their descendants.