We would like to wish all our readers a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

To help you celebrate the New Year as you return to your classrooms after the holiday season, we have produced some resources to get your students thinking, speaking and writing in English again. We will start here with a text about interesting and unusual New Year Traditions in Britain and around the world. You can then download alternative versions of the text with comprehension and multiple-choice questions and further teaching ideas.

Ten New Year Traditions

United Kingdom

In Britain, December 31st is known as New Year’s Eve. It is not a public holiday but in the evening many people party with friends and family at home or in traditional pubs. At midnight people listen to the chimes of Big Ben and often link arms to sing the traditional song Auld Lang Syne. There are often big fireworks displays. In Scotland and some other parts of Britain, there is a tradition called first footing in which people go to visit the homes of their friends and neighbours. It is believed that the first person to enter your home on 1st January will bring you luck. The luckiest ‘first-footers’ are thought to be dark-haired and they should bring a lump of coal with them!


Crowds have been gathering in New York City’s Times Square to watch the ball drop since 1907. Located on the roof of Number One, Times Square, the ball descends a specially designed flagpole, beginning at 11:59:00 p.m. and stopping at midnight to signal the start of the new year. The first ball was made of iron and wood but today it is a 12-foot, 11,875-pound geodesic sphere covered in 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and 32,256 LEDs. The tradition is based on a nineteenth-century naval practice in which Time Balls were dropped down flagpoles in ports at midday so that ships could adjust their clocks. In other American cities you can see other things slide down poles as a visual countdown to the New Year, for example in Plymouth, Wisconsin there is a Big Cheese Drop.


In Brazil, it is a tradition to wear white on New Year’s Eve. White symbolises peace and good luck. Many people head to the beach where you can increase your luck by getting into the water and jumping over seven waves. You get one wish for each wave you manage to jump over.


In Spain, it is customary to eat 12 grapes – one at each stroke of the clock at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Each grape represents good luck for one month of the coming year. In bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, people gather in main squares to eat their grapes together and pass around bottles of cava.


Round shaped fruits and decorations are popular in The Philippines at New Year. They symbolise coins and prosperity. Many families display piles of fruit on their dining tables and some eat exactly 12 round fruits at midnight (as in Spain, grapes are the most popular choice). In line with the round shaped theme, many people also wear clothes with polka dot patterns and designs for luck.


Residents of Denmark greet the New Year by throwing old plates and glasses against the doors of family and friends to banish bad spirits. They also stand on chairs and jump off them together at midnight to “leap” into January in hopes of good luck.


In Finland, people predict the coming year by casting molten tin into a container of water and then interpreting the shape the metal takes after hardening. A heart or ring means a wedding, while a ship predicts travel, and a pig means there will be plenty of food.


As in Finland, Austrians and some Germans also cast molten tin into water to predict the future. In Austria, it is also a tradition to buy lucky charms in the Christmas markets (often in the shape of pigs) and give them as gifts on New Year’s Eve. In Austria, this is known as Sylvester Night (the festival of Saint Sylvester who served as Pope in medieval times).


Church bells and loud fireworks herald the start of the New Year in Greece. An onion is traditionally hung on the front door of homes on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of rebirth. On New Year’s Day, parents wake their children by tapping them on the head with the onion!


The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. The date changes every year but is always somewhere in the period from January 21st to February 20th. Each Chinese year is associated with an animal sign according to the Chinese zodiac cycle. 2023 is the year of the Rabbit. New Year is the biggest and most important national holiday in China and celebrations last for 16 days. People traditionally decorate their homes in red and the end of the festival is marked with Lantern festivals and Dragon Dances. It is believed that you shouldn’t wash your hair or eat porridge on New Year’s Day, or you will be unlucky.

In the free downloads which you can access by clicking the link below you can find a selection of exercises and activities linked to the above text which are differentiated by levels of ability in English. There is also a selection of ideas and suggestions for further classroom activities based on New Year Traditions. We hope you find it useful and once again wish you all the best for the New Year!

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