USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘new year’s eve’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

New Year’s Eve Tradition


Interviewer: What is being performed?


Informant: New Year’s Eve tradition by Alec Shale

Every year while waiting for the new year to begin, we would do a giant puzzle and try to finish it before midnight.


Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?


Informant: Tradition created with my Dad for every New Year’s Eve when I was young. I like it because it reminds me of fun times with family.


Interviewer:  What country and what region of that country are you from?


Informant: United States, Arizona


Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?


Informant: My Family


Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?


Informant: When I was 4 or 5 years old.


Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?


Informant: On a New Year’s Day without much to do, we had a puzzle and decided to race to solve it.


Interviewer: What does it mean to you?


Informant: To me, this is a tradition that means time spent with family…. Doing an activity, but mostly just talking and enjoying each other’s company. I intend to continue this tradition with my kids.


Context of the performance- conversation with classmate


Thoughts about the piece- This informant believes his family tradition to be unique but I have also experienced a quiet NYE with my family. Our activity is preparing and consuming a gourmet dinner. In both cases, an introspective preparation precedes a momentous symbolic shift. Googling New Years Eve at home yields almost 19 million results, even a wiki-how;

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eating 12 Grapes on New Year’s Eve

Interviewer: What is being performed? New Year’s Eve Tradition by Elisa Alfonso


Informant: Eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve


Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?


Informant: It’s a Spanish tradition that is practiced in Cuba. I know about it because I do it with my      family every year and uh I learned it from my Cuban relatives, specifically my grandmother.


Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?


Informant: Camaguey, Cuba


Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?


Informant: I don’t belong to it but I believe it comes from Catholicism.


Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?


Informant: From my grandmother


Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?


Informant: I know that it’s a superstition. And that each grape is supposed to represent a month of good luck in the New Year.


Interviewer: What does it mean to you?


Informant: I really like this tradition because it makes me feel more connected to my culture and my family and it’s a fun thing to do every year. I’ve no idea where this tradition comes from or how it started, but my family has been doing it my whole life. It’s just something fun to do together.


Context of the performance- conversation with a classmate


Thoughts about the piece- This reminds me of the marketing campaign by Nathan’s Famous to have a timed hot dog eating contest on July 4th and a little research shows that ‘las doce uvas de la suerte’ was also started by marketers- grape growers with a surplus crop. Eight million people watch a midnight broadcast from Puerta del Sol each year. The 12 grape rule can devolve into a competition because they should be swallowed before the clock stops striking. For some grape eating strategies check here:


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pasadena New Year’s and New Year’s Eve

JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives with his parents in Pasadena, CA.

JH talked to me about some of the traditions and rituals that surround New Year’s and New Year’s Eve in his hometown:

“New Years is probably the biggest event in Pasadena…first of all there’s the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game…for the Rose Parade you always know it’s coming because in like, late November they start putting up the grandstands down Orange Grove [a major boulevard], and I live right above the Rose Bowl so they start setting up for events around then too in the neighborhood. They put up these giant white tents down there where they start building some of the floats, and you can go down and help decorate them with flowers – I’ve never gone, but I know some people or their families go every year. The floats are really cool.

There’s also the Rose Court and they’re a big part of the Rose Parade. My sister tried out a few years ago. I think in like September, or really early in the school year, all the girls who are seniors can try out, and they go to this really big mansion called the Tournament House and have a bunch of rounds of interviews. Obviously like, not all the girls are really interested in being on the Court, but it’s just a tradition they all do together. Everyone who participates I know also gets two tickets to this ‘Royal Ball,’ which is basically just a huge dance they have. That’s why a lot of girls do it I guess, just to get the tickets. But I don’t know, maybe it’s also just fun for them to participate. And then they eventually pick like six or seven girls, and one of them is the Queen, and they spend the rest of the year doing charity work and being like, the representatives of Pasadena, and then on New Years they have their own float and they kind of “preside” over the Rose Bowl game later that day.

A lot of my friends don’t really go to the actual parade though…it’s the kind of thing you go to a few times when you’re little and your parents want to take you and it’s exciting – they have free donuts under the grandstands, and hot chocolate – but once you’re like, 10 everyone’s pretty over it. And then when you’re older, the best part about New Years is New Years Eve. The night before, everyone usually gets dressed up, not fancy or anything but girls wear dresses and heels sometimes, and even though it’s freezing outside, like less than 50 degrees at night, everyone goes to parties near the Parade Route. They bring some of the floats onto the street the night before and block it off to cars, to everyone’s just walking up and down Orange Grove looking at floats and hanging out with their friends, there’s some people camped out for the parade on the side, and kids are going back and forth between other people’s parties. It’s really funny because everyone is drinking too. Besides the kids, you see a lot of cops and a lot of people’s parents just really really drunk on the street, and everyone’s just having a good time…if you lived off of Orange Grove you would feel kind of obligated to have a party or open your house up. And then everyone would obviously like count down to midnight together and all that, and then you’d usually crash at someone’s house and wake up the next morning and watch the parade on TV, if you wanted to, or just walk up to the parade route and see it from there. But after awhile no one really got tickets to see the parade. But if you were really lucky, you got tickets to the Rose Bowl game, which was always a big deal. My friends and I really like football, and usually someone’s dad knows someone who can get us tickets, so we try to go whenever we can.”

I asked JH if he thought his experience with this festival was unique, as someone who lived in the community and had people coming from all over to vacation in his hometown:

“Yeah, it was definitely different. Growing up with this happening every year, a lot of it just got kind of annoying, especially living right next to the Rose Bowl and having streets blocked off and so much traffic that entire week before New Years. There’d be a lot of football fans from the Midwest of whatever Big-10 school that was playing, or Stanford people coming down from the Bay for the week, and there’d be just a bunch of people and a bunch of cars all over Pasadena during the end of winter break, a lot of people who didn’t know where they were going. I guess Pasadena isn’t usually a tourist destination until New Years, so it’s weird all of a sudden having a bunch of strangers in your hometown…like Pasadena isn’t small, it doesn’t feel like a small town where everyone knows each other, but you can clearly tell if someone is visiting or someone lives here. And yeah, the Rose Parade gets old after awhile, but I think everyone who lives here would still say it’s one of their favorite holidays.”

My analysis:

Its very different to visit a festival annually and to live in a community where an annual festival takes place – after awhile, the nostalgia and excitement is buffered by some of the logistical nightmares and fatigue that JH describes above. Pasadena New Year’s and New Year’s Eve definitely has similar traditions as other places, like counting down to midnight and getting together with friends and family. The Rose Parade also has elements of other festivals, like floats and a “court” of young women. JH gets to see community involvement a tourist doesn’t, like the selection of Rose Princesses or the decoration of floats that requires residents’ participation and support. This ritual is a great example of welcoming the new year by bringing a community together, while continuing customs that now have come to define Pasadena.

For more information about this festival, see:

“About the Rose Parade.” Tournament of Roses. Tournament of Roses, 18 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Japanese New Year’s Eve Traditions

Informant Background: This individual was born and grew up in Hawaii. His family is of Japanese and Chinese descent. He speaks Japanese and English. His family still practice many Japanese traditions, also many Chinese traditions. They celebrate some of the Japanese holidays. Many of the folk-beliefs and superstitious are still practiced. His relatives who are Japanese lives in Hawaii as well. He currently lives in Los Angeles to attend college.


At New Year’s Eve, it is a Japanese tradition that you eat long strand of noodles which signifies a long and healthy life. Next, you have to eat the sticky rice, mochi, which represent how your family will stick together. Then, you go to the temple where you can make a wish and pick up different kinds of blessed paper which represents different things in your life such as: safe travel, good study, etc. You do these things with your family, relative, and close friends.

Though the informant’s family migrated to Hawaii two generations ago they still practice Japanese rituals and traditions during important holidays. It is not only important that these rituals have to be performed, but also importance that they are performed correctly to bring the individual a good coming next year.



I believe that almost everybody have some kind of New Year’s Even traditions depending on the culture. New Year’s Eve is also one of the main periods of liminality since it is the transition period of one of the longest life cycle measurement. The New Year also signifies the end of something as well as the beginning. This tradition shows how food and everyday activity is made special during the liminal period as a way to create foreshadow of events or even a positive self-fulfillment prophecy(making a wish at midnight, drinking champagne, etc).

According to the informant the food consumed during this time of year is made slightly different but from the same ingredients as the food eaten every day. The form of the food becomes metaphor to many valued aspect in that culture: long life and family ties. Similar to other culture holiday traditions, certain foods are exclusive to those events and those events only.

The blessed paper is to foresee and start the New Year with good luck and goals for the coming year. I’ve observed on my trip to Japan once that there are many type of these paper that one can purchased: good luck, good grades, good relationship, pass an exam, get into university, etc. This reflects the idea of a “life fulfillment prophecy” where the beliefs that you will get good luck can help bring you good luck.

In this Japanese tradition to do all the traditions is not only to foreshadow a good year but also foreshadow a good year with your family. The idea that these rituals are done with people close to you shows how the transition period is not only important to the individual, but the collective as well.

The performance of these traditions also shows how some individual is reinforcing his cultural identity from his geographical origin without being there.


New Year’s Eve 7-11-Doubles Game

When visiting my brother for New Year’s Eve while he was an undergrad at UCSB he showed me this drinking game. He explains the rules of the special New Year’s version:

“7-11-Doubles is played with a big chalice cup. For this one [New Year's] we used the Pimp Chalice but you can use measuring cups, big slurpee or anything that size.

You get a case of champagne or depending on the [number of] people a few.

You fill the cup with what you think someone can chug in like 10 seconds.

Everyone rolls the dice until someone rolls a 7, 11 or the same number on each die. Then the person who rolled picks someone to drink.
That person has to chug the entire thing before a 7,11 or double is rolled again by the same person.

The person rolling the dice can’t go until the person drinking touches the chalice. You can fuck around and touch it with your cup or make someone else touch it. But soon as it’s touched you chug & the other person rolls.

If you don’t finish drinking before a good roll, you gotta do it again until you beat the roll.”

The game is played gathered around the chalice in a haphazard circle. Everyone playing has another cup with beer or champagne which they drink from while they’re waiting for their turn – but you never know when you’ll be chosen to drink next. The person who is chosen to drink can be saved by anyone in the circle. The person saving the drinker (‘saver’) just has to snatch the chalice before the appointed drinker touches it and chug. If the ‘saver’ beats the roller they get the dice next. If they don’t they have to take on the chosen drinker’s responsibility until they manage to chug before a 7,11 or double is rolled.

The New Year’s version was characterized by a high enthusiasm for saving the appointed drinker, tricking the roller, and distracting whoever was rolling by forcibly kissing them.

The game was interrupted at midnight when the person who happened to be the roller had to pick someone to make out with for the duration of the roll. The person chosen to kiss had to continually pour champagne into the chalice while everyone else attempted to get a turn at chugging before an 11 or snake eyes were rolled.

Earth cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

El Año Viejo (Ecuador)

In Ecuador, la fiesta de Año Viejo (literally, “the old year festival”) is a long-standing tradition that symbolically incinerates the regrets, failures and anger of the past year to usher in the resolutions, hopes and expectations for the new year.  On the 31st of December, men fill the streets dressed as women during the day, and at night, effigies are ritually burned to ashes.

When living in her hometown of Ibarra (50 miles outside Quito, the capital), my informant celebrated this tradition every year with her friends and family.  As she explains the tradition, she smiles and laughs, recalling the silliness of the festivities.  She recalls how young men, wearing women’s clothes and makeup, block the city streets and demand small payments of money from passersby.  Only then can you pass and go on your way.  She explains that the men collect money to pay for alcohol, “para emborrarcharse” (to get drunk) later that night.

However, about five days earlier, preparations for the celebration begin with crafting life-sized dolls, or los años viejos, made of clothes and paper.  The effigy might represent a disliked celebrity or political figure, or even a representation of past mistakes or unachieved goals.  Sometimes a handwritten note is attached to the doll that explains why it must be burned.  My informant says that effigies are still made of Abdalá “El Loco” Bucaram, a corrupt president who served during the 1990s and was later overthrown for stealing money.  Yet, she also explains that nowadays, the años viejos can take the form of popular culture figures like SpongeBob Squarepants or Marvel comic superheroes.

Again, she laughs as she recalls her uncle’s custom.  Every year, her uncle makes an año viejo of himself and attaches a note that sounds like a last will and testament.  Instead of a somber undertone, he leaves funny and sarcastic notes to his family members.  For example, one year he wrote….

As the clock nears midnight, people set fire to their años viejos outside their houses, in the streets or even on the beach.  To give it even more New Year’s flare, firecrackers are often thrown into the fire.  My informant says that this is one of her favorite holidays, but since she has moved to the U.S., the tradition of años viejos has slightly changed.  Instead of setting fire to the año viejo, she and her family ceremonially throw the effigy in the trash.

When analyzing the celebration of Año Viejo, the liminality of New Year’s Eve instigates a transformation of identities and superstition.  Because December 31st brings the past year to a close, but is not quite a new year, this liminal phase inverts social roles and men behave uncharacteristically by dressing up and acting like women.  Yet, the años viejos can be perceived as a form of superstition or imitative magic.  They symbolize past mistakes or the character of disliked public figures, and the ritual burning of the effigies signifies their eradication, to ensure they don’t return in the new year.  The tradition is also superstitious because it is an active performance that attempts to produce good luck and a “clean slate.”

The types of años viejos that are crafted today illustrate the history and evolution of the holiday.  The history of Años Viejo is unclear, but my informant says that it may have been started because of a yellow fever epidemic that affected the country years ago and many bodies were burned as a result.  Similar to how yellow fever was rid from the country through pyres, the años viejos represent misfortunes or undesired characteristics and are also erased in the flames of a fire.  The yellow fever influence may be the reason why many años viejos take the form of a human.   Furthermore, while años viejos of disliked politicians are still used, the introduction of creating popular culture characters may indicate a change in the political environment of Ecuador.  My informant told me that the president in office today is well liked and the Ecuadorian government is no longer corrupt.  Therefore, años viejos appear to adapt to contemporary issues, trends and most of all, humor.  “Ecuador is a very relaxed country” and locals appear to reflect the stress-free atmosphere through the use of humor in Año Viejo celebrations.

So let’s set the Año Viejo ablaze and welcome the new!

Folk Beliefs

Ritual – Hawaii


The subject learned this ritual from her best friend Brenna, who’s mother learned of the tradition on a vacation in Hawaii. On New Year’s Eve @ midnight you must jump over 7 waves for good luck. The subject has successfully attempted this feat.

The subject described the experience: “It connects me with the ocean which is a big part of living in a sea-side town.” Both the subject and her family now participate in the ritual Furthermore, the subject comes from a very superstitious family.

The number seven itself, is very significant in her family because it is considered the number of completion and is considered good luck. The subject was not aware of any other cultural implications of the ritual because it was not originally her own but her friend’s.

Upon a conversation with someone else about this tradition, that subject said she had seen the ritual take place in Brazil and that it was possibly brought over to brazil by African slaves during the slave trade. It seems as though this ritual is a classic example of the Khron’s “historic geographic” theory.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Festival – Hawaii/Japan

My informant described the traditions that people in Hawaii carry out on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. More specifically, he described to me what Japanese-Americans in Hawaii do to celebrate because he is part Japanese. He says that one of the biggest traditions that Japanese people carry out is the popping of fireworks. On New Year’s Eve on the dot of twelve, almost everyone in Hawaii pops fireworks on their front lawn. The fireworks that they pop are long strings of red firecrackers, and they create very loud popping sounds. He said that there is a legend for why Asian-Americans do this in Hawaii; however, the tale actually started in China. The story begins with a dragon that lived in the mountains. Every New Year’s, the dragon would come down from his mountain and into the village to steal away the little children and eat them. For many years, the people in the village could not figure out what to do. Instead of being happy and celebrating the New Year, people were very afraid of the events that would undoubtedly come. Then, one day, a man thought of using gunpowder to scare away the dragon. At the strike of midnight, the man set off the gunpowder and it scared away the dragon. Now, it is tradition to “scare away the dragon” by being as loud as possible.

The next tradition that takes place is on New Year’s Day. He says that there is a huge Japanese karaoke song festival that many Japanese-Americans will watch the night of the start of the New Year. This festival is actually recorded in Japan on their New Year’s Eve. He and his family also drink a Japanese mochi soup called “ozoni.” Ozonie contains clear noodles in a chicken broth, and has a variety of vegetable such as baby corn, carrots, and bamboo shoots. At the very bottom of the dish is a piece of soft mochi. For dessert, he and his family will have Japanese-style mochi that is fried in butter. The mochi is then coated in a type of brown sugar called “kinako.”

My informant tells me that these traditions are very common in Hawaii. He says that the sound of all the firecrackers popping at the strike of twelve is very deafening. However, he says that it is a very exciting time, and it makes him and all of his neighbors feel closer to one another. The food that he and his family make is also something to have them bond. Because he is part Irish, part Chinese, and part Japanese, he does not actually have one culture to follow. He says that this way of celebrating the New Year is a good way for all of his cultures to mend together and accept one another.