5 Completely Different International New Years

Happy 2019 to all our fellow readers and travelers! While we’re all ringing in the new year and celebrating new beginnings (and hopefully more travels), we thought we’d talk about a few cultures around the world whose new year doesn’t actually start on January 1st but rather at another time in the calendar year (the information found in this blog post is taken from and can be found here). Despite the differences in the cultural practices and celebrations of New Year’s, it is a time to universally commemorate the year that has just past and looking forward to the one that’s about to begin.


Persian New Year “Nowruz” (March 20)

persian new year table

Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, is a combination of two Persian words, which can be translated to “new day.” Before the celebration, members of the household prepare the “haft-seen” table of seven items that start with the letter S. Varying between food and spices, these items symbolize sunrise and the spice of life, love and affection, and patience and age. Among other traditions, Iranians place a mirror on the table as a symbol for people to reflect on the past year.


Sri Lanka New Year “Aluth Avurudda” (April 14)

Sri Lanka New Year game

The Sinhalese and Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka observe New Year’s in mid-April by opening their doors to family, friends, and other members of the community. The new year is celebrated through various customs and rituals, namely boiling milk in a new earthen pot until it boils over, which symbolizes prosperity. Sweets made of rice and coconut oil, such as traditional kavum, and dishes with plantains are also prepared and served.

Pictured above is a traditional game played at Sinhalese & Tamil New Year festivals – Kana Mutti Bindheema. The competitors are blindfolded, after which they are spun around in circles. Then, they are allowed to walk forwards in order to take a swing a the water-filled pots hanging before them.


Chinese New Year “Chūn jié” (February 5)

chinese new year lanterns

The Chinese New Year falls on different dates every year because it is based on the lunar calendar. The official holiday is seven days long, but the celebration typically lasts for more than two weeks. More specifically, the celebration begins on the Lunar New Year’s Eve and lasts for 15 days. 2019 is the year of the pig and will be celebrated with a week off from work, eating traditional foods such as eight treasures rice and watching dancing dragon performances. The celebrations close with the Festival of Lanterns.


Ethiopian New Year “Enkutatash” (September 12)

Ethiopia Enkutatash coffee popcorn

New Year’s Eve is on September 11th and September 12th marks the day of the new year in Ethiopia. By this time, the lengthy rain season has come to a close, leaving behind a countryside flourishing in yellow daisies. That’s fitting because Enkutatash in Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia, translates to “gift of jewels.” To celebrate New Year’s, Ethiopians sing songs unique to the day and exchange bouquets of flowers. Of course, there is plenty of eating and drinking, too.

Especially in Ethiopia, there is an elaborate coffee ceremony to mark the coming of a new year, with hand-woven mats used as a base for a small low table to stand, carrying coffee cups which will serve the slowly roasted coffee beans. A hand-made matt is brought and spread out over the grass on the floor in the living room. Then, a small low table is brought in with the coffee cups piling up on it. The elders smell the coffee first to ensure it’s properly roasted, then the coffee is served, starting from the elders, and ending on everyone aged 18 and above. Under 18’s are not allowed to drink coffee!


Thai New Year “Songkran” (April 13-15)

thailand songkran

Songkran, the Thai New Year, means “passing” or “approaching” in Sanskrit. And the traditions of the day make for a truly refreshing experience. One New Year’s tradition involves the gentle pouring of water on elders of the community. Doing so is a way of paying respect and, in return, they bestow their blessing. Sprinkling water onto images of the Buddha is also a custom to receive blessings for the new year. In addition, stemming from these traditions, songkran is distinctively also known for massive water fights that break out on the streets, with locals and children alike having fun and laughing together as they all become drenched as the new year begins.