New Year’s Eve is celebrated in so many different ways across the globe, with many traditions originating hundreds of years ago. But even within the UK, traditions vary greatly from region to region. Each city or area has its own personal folklore or history which dictates different rituals and events to bring in the new year. We’ve done some research on the most popular traditions in different cities…
London’s New Year celebrations are probably the most widely broadcast, appearing on the BBC every year. It includes a huge fireworks display, with some pyrotechnics even being set off from the London Eye Ferris wheel. The first major fireworks display was hosted in the year 1999, to lead into the new millennium, and an estimated 3 million people turned out to watch the display.
Before the popularity of pyrotechnics, people in London used to gather around St Paul’s cathedral to hear the bells ring in the new year. The earliest recorded New Year’s Eve where this occurred is 1878!
While the city of Newcastle celebrates the new year in a very traditional, booze-soaked manner, smaller villages in Northumberland have their own traditions. The village of Allendale, known for its popular brewery, has an annual New Year tradition which dates back to 1858!
The Tar Bar’l parade takes place every year on New Year’s Eve and involves local men in traditional costume carrying barrels filled with burning tar through the streets. The impressive flames create a colourful display and the fire harkens back to Pagan new year rituals meant to cleanse and purify.
Welsh people call New Year ‘calennig’ and they spend the festival exchanging gifts and money. Traditionally, children make sweet treats consisting of an apple on a stick with raisins and fruit stuck in – this is also known as a Calennig. More modern celebrations also take place, the biggest being in Cardiff. People in Cardiff celebrate with live music, fairground rides and a Winter Wonderland.
The celebration of the turn of the year grew in popularity in Scotland after the invasion of the Vikings, who used to light large fires to ward off evil spirits and to celebrate the winter solstice. Also, after the Church of Scotland discouraged the celebration of Christmas in 1583, the Scottish people put a bigger emphasis on their new year celebrations.
The Scottish celebration of Hogmanay (New Year) has the biggest festivities in Edinburgh. A huge street party takes over Prince’s Street, with live music, fireworks and a cannon is fired at Edinburgh castle to mark midnight. The festivities last over four days, including a ceilidh and the Stoats Loony Dook parade on New Year’s Day – a fancy dress dip into the waters of the Firth of Forth.
Yorkshire has their own fiery traditions, with the Fire Festival in Flamborough. It is a Viking themed parade which starts with the burning of a longship – the only one in England. This burns away the old spirits and welcomes in new ones for the new year.
Another interesting Yorkshire tradition is the incantation they say during the New Year countdown. In the lead up to the clock striking midnight, chant “black rabbits, black rabbits, black rabbits” and when it turns 12 o clock, they say “white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits”. While it sounds like a strange tradition, they believe it brings them good luck in the coming year!
The Lake District has a calmer, more serene way of celebrating New Year. It is a picturesque place to bring in the new year and the beauty of the surroundings is the perfect place for some end-of-year reflection. A few of the villages have their own traditions and events every year, like Keswick, where locals gather in front of the clock tower in town to count down to midnight.
Many hotels in the Lake District have New Year events, especially in Bowness on Windermere, where locals and visitors gather on the jetty to watch fireworks set off by hotels on the shore.