New Year's Traditions

On December thirty-first, Americans and other people around the world welcome the New Year. I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Steve Ember. We tell about New Year celebrations and traditions on our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

It is December thirty-first in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of people are gathered in Times Square. They stand close together, waiting in the cold darkness for midnight. That is the time when the old year dies and the New Year is born.

The people count the seconds until the New Year arrives. "Ten … nine …eight …" A huge glass New Year's ball falls through the darkness. Someone says the ball looks like thousands of burning stars. Someone else says it looks like a huge, bright piece of snow.

When the ball reaches the ground, the New Year has begun. People shout "Happy New Year!" They throw tiny pieces of colorful paper into the air. They dance. They sing a traditional New Year song of friendship called "Auld Lang Syne."

Each year, people arrive in Times Square while it is still daylight. After dark, at about six o'clock, the New Year's Eve ball is raised to its highest position. By this time thousands of people are gathered for the celebration ahead. They say "ooh" and "aah" when the electric company turns on the thousands of little lights in the ball.

Then everyone waits for the beautiful object to fall. Families and friends attend this event together. People who have not met talk as if they had known each other all their lives. Many in the crowd jump around to keep warm.

The first New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square took place in nineteen-oh-four. The owners of a building on Times Square held that first party on top of their building. Three years later, a New Year's ball was dropped from the top of the building for the first time.

The ball has been dropped every year except for two years during World War Two. In nineteen-forty-two and nineteen-forty-three, crowds still gathered in Times Square. They observed a moment of silence. After that, bells rang from a vehicle in Times Square.


People do not pay to attend the Times Square celebration. But other New Year's Eve celebrations can be costly. Many Americans observe the holiday at public eating and drinking places.

Some people like to see the New Year arrive while traveling by boat. For example, people in Chicago, Illinois, can choose from several special holiday trips on Lake Michigan. These cruises include dinner and dancing to music performed by a band. In San Diego, California, a ship company offers New Year's Eve on the Pacific Ocean. It costs more than one-hundred dollars for each person.

Other Americans have parties at home and invite all their friends. Many of these events are noisy. People shout and sing. They often blow on small noisemakers when the New Year arrives at midnight. They kiss their husband or wife or the person they are with. They dance to music. Other Americans spend a quiet evening at home. They drink Champagne at midnight to welcome the New Year. Here, the Persuasions sing "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

Some people drink too much alcohol at New Year's Eve celebrations. This can lead to tragic results if a person drinks too much and then drives a car. The National Safety Council says hundreds of people die in road accidents during the holiday.

In recent years, the danger of accidents has resulted in a new tradition called the "designated driver." One person among a group of friends drinks little or no alcohol during New Year's Eve celebrations. Then this designated driver can safely drive the other people home. Many American cities also offer free taxi service on New Year's Eve to take people home safely.

Other Americans observe the coming of the New Year at events without alcohol. More than two-hundred-twenty American cities hold these First Night celebrations. Artists in Boston, Massachusetts started the tradition of First Night celebrations in nineteen-seventy-six. They wanted to observe the coming of a New Year. But they did not want to hold noisy drinking parties. So they organized music, art and other events to observe the holiday.

People in Boston can choose among two-hundred-fifty performances and exhibits around the city. People can look at huge statues made of ice. Families can watch fireworks early in the evening. Later, fireworks light the midnight sky over Boston Harbor.

After the celebrations of New Year's Eve, New Year's Day is often a quiet day for many Americans. Many people spend the first day of the New Year at home. Some watch football games on television. Some of the top university teams play in these games. The most famous of these "bowl" games is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The Tournament of Roses Parade includes many vehicles called floats. The floats are covered completely with paper or flowers. Businesses, social groups, universities and the city government pay thousands of dollars to build these floats. Millions of people watch the colorful event on television.

Another famous parade takes place on the opposite side of the nation, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This city holds a yearly Mummers Parade on New Year's Day. The Mummers make unusual costumes to wear. They cover their faces with masks. They march through the city and play musical instruments.

Sometimes families invite friends to visit them on New Year's Day. They serve drinks and food at these open houses and wish everyone a good year.

In some parts of the country, American children and adults still follow an ancient custom on January first. They go from house to house singing to friends and neighbors. Americans borrowed this tradition from ancient peoples in what is now Britain and Europe. One popular song wishes people love and joy in the New Year.

Many Americans follow traditions meant to bring good luck in the New Year. Some people wear special clothes or eat special foods. For example, men and women who want to find their true love wear yellow clothing. Others carry silver in hopes of finding money.

People in many parts of the United States celebrate the New Year by eating black-eyed peas. Cabbage is another vegetable that people eat to bring good luck and money. In the South, people prepare and eat a traditional food called Hoppin' John. It contains peas, onions, bacon and rice. It has this unusual name because long ago children were said to like it so much they hopped around the room while waiting for it to cook.

Asian-Americans sometimes make traditional fortune cookies. These sweets contain small pieces of paper telling about a person's future. Some Americans from Spanish-speaking families follow a tradition for the New Year that involves fruit. On January First, they stand on a chair and eat grapes.

Whatever you do celebrate the New Year, we wish you a very happy one.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.