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New Year’s Eve Is Better in These Countries

By Lottie Gross

Dec 9, 2019

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To celebrate the New Year, Edinburgh hosts a three-day party with a torchlight parade and polar plunge. 

Photo by Marco Bicci/Shutterstock

To celebrate the New Year, Edinburgh hosts a three-day party with a torchlight parade and polar plunge. 

Instead of countdowns and midnight kisses, opt for temple visits in Japan, torchlight parades in Scotland, cruises to Antarctica, and more.

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Forget the fireworks and champagne toasts. If you find New Year’s Eve all a bit boring, anxiety inducing, or simply over the top, you should escape to somewhere new this year. All over the world, there are unique traditions and New Year’s celebrations that will make for a truly memorable trip; start the year with an adventure. Here, our suggestions for festivities across the globe that offer something a little different for 2020.

Have double the fun in Scotland

Hogmanay is Edinburgh’s giant, multi-day party, starting on December 30 and ending on New Year’s Day. Celebrations on the 31st are similar to those in any world capital⁠—live music, fireworks, and general revelry—but the more interesting aspects of New Year’s in Edinburgh occur on either side of the partying. On the 30th, pipers and drummers lead torch-wielding locals on a medieval-like procession through the old town, while New Year’s Day brings a bracing swim in the chilly waters of the Firth of Forth.

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Even better, you can celebrate New Year’s Eve twice in Scotland. Drive north to the small coastal town of Burghead and take part in the Burning of the Clavie⁠—an ancient pagan ritual that gained steam in the 1750s when the Catholic church replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian one. The decision moved the first day of the New Year back by 11 days, but instead of rioting like the rest of Scotland, Burghead locals simply decided to observe both holidays. After celebrating on January 1, they gather on January 11 to honor what they still consider the real New Year’s Day, walking a burning barrel full of staves (the clavie) through town before leaving it to fall down a hill. Grab a piece of charred wood and it’ll supposedly bring you luck in the New Year.

Get spiritual in Osaka, Japan

When in Osaka, ring in the New Year with a temple visit and traditional foods like prawns, herring roe, and mochi.

In Japan, the turn of the New Year has a wholesome focus. Shōgatsu (New Year) is usually celebrated with a visit to the local temple to exchange last year’s lucky charms for new ones. At Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Taisha temple, hundreds of worshippers line up to pray in the main hall around midnight and throughout January 1. Queues can be hours long, but head to smaller shrines and temples, like Tsuyunoten Shrine or Isshinji Temple, and you’ll find an equally atmospheric event without the long wait.

Afterward, be sure to feast on traditional New Year foods. Packed neatly into a tiered jūbako box, osechi-ryōri are the snacks of the season and include prawns (believed to bring a long life), herring roe (to boost fertility), and mochi (rice cake). You can purchase the bento box–like treats from department stores or supermarkets throughout the holiday season.

Run in your underwear in Valencia, Spain

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If you’re keen on partying in your birthday suit, New Year’s Eve in Valencia, Spain, might be for you. A Spanish superstition says that wearing red panties will bring you good luck on New Year’s Eve, but the residents of La Font de la Figuera, a village near Valencia, take it one step further. On December 31, whatever the weather, hundreds of locals strip down to red underwear and race through the streets to welcome the next 12 months. Just don’t forget to bring along some grapes—another tradition demands you swallow 12 in quick succession, one for each ring of the bell upon midnight. 

Be the first and last to party in Polynesia

On New Year’s Eve, the Polynesian island of Samoa is one of the first to celebrate.

After switching time zones in 2011, the remote Polynesian island of Samoa is now one of the first nations in the world to ring in the New Year. Locals celebrate with an annual, island-wide party, complete with fire dancers, traditional costumes made from grass and palm fronds, and—of course—fireworks. Many hotels put on special events and book local and international talent, while restaurants serve feasts of fresh fish and local delicacies like palusami (taro leaves baked in coconut cream). 

Don’t party too hard though: While Samoa is one of the first to welcome the New Year, American Samoa, just a 20-minute flight southeast, is one of the last. This means that, after dancing the night away in Samoa, you can hop over to the United States’ far-flung territory for a second round of festivities. 

Set sail for Antarctica

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New Year’s Eve is often a time for reflection, typically about our past achievements and future desires. Shake things up this year and, instead, meditate on the wonder of nature and the fragility of our Earth on a trip to Antarctica. Tour operator Intrepid Travel is offering a small cruise to the southernmost region in the world, where passengers can spend New Year’s Eve among humpback whales, icebergs, and countless stars. The trip includes land excursions, a lecture program, and adventurous activities like kayaking, polar plunges, and overnight camping, plus an onboard celebration to ring in 2020. As a bonus, Intrepid promises to carbon offset the voyage, serve only sustainably sourced seafood, avoid single-use plastics, and use biodegradable cleaning products, helping guests start the New Year on an eco-friendly note. 

Get lost in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Trade fireworks for stargazing in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

For those who prefer not to acknowledge New Year’s Eve at all, there’s always the option of total seclusion in the desert. Chile’s Atacama is a vast, barren landscape with smoking volcanoes, glistening salt flats, and otherwordly rock formations, plus zero light pollution come nightfall. Free camping is allowed in the desert, so rent a car and drive out into the wilderness to set up your tent anywhere you please.

If you don’t want to go it alone, book a glamping tour with the likes of Caznove & Loyd, who will take you on guided hikes and bike rides through the desert and put up a solar-powered tented camp for a more luxurious night’s sleep.

>>Next: How to Use the Holidays to Plan Your Next Epic Adventure

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