Fun Folklore for the New Year

There are many more traditions surrounding the New Year than just singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight. And countless methods for allegedly influencing the events and fortunes of the incoming year.

Superstitions often involve getting rid of the old year before welcoming the new. All the doors in the house are opened just before midnight to allow the old year – and any residual bad luck – to escape. In China, the house is cleaned from top to bottom to sweep away the dust of the old year.

There are modern takes on this too. In New York, giant paper shredders are available for the public to be able to get rid of the old year’s poor fortunes. I spotted some footage on TV of New Yorkers shredding everything from worthless stocks to photos of ex-lovers. As humans, we instinctively realize that we have to make room in our hearts and lives for good things to happen to us.

First visitors

After midnight, it’s bad luck for anyone to leave the house before someone enters it. That’s because the “first footer” – whomever enters your home in the New Year – is said to influence your luck for the next twelve months. Ideally, the “first footer” will make their way through the house and leave by a different door.

In the British Isles, it’s bad luck for your first visitor to be a woman, and a blonde or red-haired woman is even worse luck. For optimum good luck, a dark-haired man should be first through the door. If he’s handsome and single, so much the better. And it’s really lucky if he brings symbolic gifts – some coins, a loaf of bread, a branch of evergreen and salt.

In the southern United States, the sex of the first visitor through the door influences the balance of power in a marriage. If a man enters, then the husband will have more power that year. If a woman, the wife will be the more powerful partner.


The principle of “What you see is what you get” is practiced all over the world in connection with the advent of New Year. Here are just a few examples:

1. If the house is clean by midnight on Dec. 31st, it’ll be clean for the entire next year. (Do I have to sort the closets too?)

2. If all your pockets and purses and wallets have coins and dollars in them by midnight, you’ll have plenty of money in the new year. Some people place coins on windowsills and the tops of doors too.

3. If you wear new clothes on New Year’s Day, More new clothes will come your way. (My daughters like this one!)

4. No crying, fighting, arguing, name-calling or general negativity on New Year’s Day or you’ll have strife and tears all year long.

5. Don’t let valuable things leave your house on New Year’s Day or luck and fortune will go with them. The general belief refers to things like money and jewelry, but some people believe that nothing – not even garbage! – should leave the house on New Year’s Day. Take the empties to the recycling bin some other time!

6. Make sure the cupboards and pantries are full on New Year’s Day, in order to ensure abundance the rest of the year.

7. In many cultures, what you do for the first hour of the New Year signifies what you’ll do the most of for the next twelve months. (Yikes – does this mean sleeping is a bad idea?)

8. In China, and in many other countries, all debts should be settled before the New Year. Don’t pay back loans or lend money on New Year’s Day however, or you’ll be paying out all year long!

9. Be careful with the dishes. If anything breaks on New Year’s Day, ruin will follow.

10. Working hard on New Year’s Day will ensure a year of grueling labor. But if you do a small token task – something related to your employment – successfully, it’ll set the tone for achievement.

11. Kissing at least one person at midnight ensures that love, friendship and affection will continue. To not give out a kiss indicates a long, cold and lonely year... (That’s dire – I’d kiss a photo or even the goldfish to avoid a fate like that!)

12. Kids in the Philippines jump up and down at midnight so they’ll grow tall.

Food, glorious food

So many of our traditions revolve around food. In Italy, eating sweets at midnight ensures a sweet year. In many Latin countries, it’s lucky to eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. In the Southern United States, black-eyed peas and greens are important foods on New Year’s Day, and so is cornbread. Eating these will bring both luck and money. The Pennsylvania Dutch eat sauerkraut for the same reason.

Pork is a lucky New Year’s food in many cultures. Foods that form a circle, such as pretzels or doughnuts, are also lucky. Watch out for chicken though. Serving chicken on New Year’s Day is said to guarantee financial problems for the year. The presence of fresh bread in the house is supposed to entice good spirits to take up residence.

And speaking of spirits...

The real reason we have all those noisemakers and fireworks to ring in the New Year? To scare away evil spirits. Yup, really. Apparently evil really hates loud parties and noisy celebrations. In many countries, church bells are rung at midnight for this reason. In Iran they bang pots and pans together. In China, they set off firecrackers. In parts of Wales, singing door to door does the job. In some parts of Ireland, you bang loudly on the door and walls with Christmas bread to chase out bad spirits. (I’ll bet fruitcake would work even better!)

A happy, noisy and successful New Year to everyone!

Dani Harper