New Year’s Around the World

written by Josiah Kahiu 30th December 2018

Time zones are not the only thing that differentiates New Year’s Eve celebrations throughout the world, culture has an important part to play as well. Thankfully, Nairobi is a big melting point for different cultures. This year, our drinks enthusiast Kahiu shares with you some of the different drinking traditions from around the world.


Bill Vaughn once said, “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” Whether you are the former or latter, many of us have some sort of tradition to help usher in the New Year.

Let us begin the list with Japan, a country well known for its fondness for sake (rice wine). For their New Year celebrations, they create a special spiced sake called otoso. This herbal infused sake is shared amongst the family members in three special cups; shared from the youngest member of the family to the eldest member. This tradition is a way of sharing life force and the elders drink last as a form of absorbing vitality from their younger descendants.

From Japan, we move to China where New Year’s is celebrated by playing drinking games – especially with dice. This form of liar’s dice is played on both the traditional Chinese new year but has also become a part of the conventional new year celebrations. For those of you who do not know this game, it is simple. Players start a round by shaking dice in a cup and slamming them down on a table covering the dice. Each player then calls out what they have underneath the cup such as ‘two fours’ and the rest of the players can either call them out as a liar or accept the call. No points are awarded but if the accuser is right, the dice holder drinks and if the dice holder is telling the truth the accuser drinks. This game gets harder as it continues as each subsequent player must have a higher count than the previous person playing – i.e. ‘three three’s’ must be followed by ‘three fours’ or ‘three fives’ or ‘five ones’. It also gets harder the more baijiu (Chinese liquor) you drink!

Russia have an interesting tradition which involves their wishes! While many cultures in the world believe in writing down wishes and burning them to make them come true, Russia, they take this a step further. They put the ashes of their burnt wishes into a glass of Champagne and drink it on the stroke of midnight. Its safe to say the road to good fortune in this part of the world starts with a different taste.

In Spain however, the road to good fortune starts with gold. The Spanish kick off the New Year with a glass of cava with something gold in it such as a ring or a coin. For your good fortune to come true, you must drink the whole glass of cava after midnight and retrieve the item. Try not to swallow it, you might just have an unlucky start to the year.

In Scotland, Hogmanay or New Year is celebrated in a fashion I quite adore. The first person (first footer) who steps through the door after midnight brings good fortune to the house with a gift – Whisky! As a general rule of thumb, however, bring a bottle of whisky to a Scottish New Year’s party to avoid embarrassment.

There are countless other New Year’s traditions around the world that you can try out but tradition or not, it is all about the beautiful moments and the treasured memories if you ask me. Wishing you, your friends and family an adventurous one!

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