At midnight, it's customary to eat 12 grapes with each strike of a bell in Spain, while in South Africa you might see furniture tossed out from a window. Yet one tradition celebrated in much of the planet is counting down the final seconds of Dec. 31 to ring in the New Year. Whether you want to see one of the most spectacular fireworks displays or are curious to know what other traditions are observed in other countries, here is a look at five of the best New Year's Eve celebrations in the world.
Beijing is one of the most prominent cities to host elaborate celebrations for both New Year's Eve and the Lunar New Year. The capital of the country credited for inventing fireworks is expected to host one of the world's largest fireworks extravaganzas on Dec. 31 at Olympic Park, the site of the 2008 Olympic Games. While China has observed the end of the year celebrations based upon the Gregorian calendar for more than 100 years, the more important event based upon the Chinese calendar has a history traced back to the 14th century B.C. The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the single most important holiday in China and commences after the second new moon of the winter solstice and lasts for 15 days. Observed by an estimated third of the world's population, significant Chinese New Year events can also be found in international cities like Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, Manila and London. In the United States, San Francisco hosts a Chinese New Year parade, known to be the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia, with annual attendances of over one million spectators.
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New York City
No other New Year's Eve celebration is as famous as the gargantuan event in New York's Time Square. Held for more than 100 years, the annual event is America's largest New Year's Eve celebration, drawing an estimated one million spectators and one billion more watching the festivities on television around the world. The spectacular event begins hours before the clock strikes midnight, with several top music artists expected to appear. As the minutes tick away towards midnight, all eyes are focused on the roof at One Times Square while anxiously waiting for the iconic Times Square Ball to descend, heralding in the New Year.
New York is also host to at least two other very prominent New Year's events, but not on December 31. While not nearly as large as the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco, the Lunar New Year Parade and Festival will be held in New York's Chinatown to celebrate the Year of the Monkey in February. Additionally, New York is also expected to host the nation's largest Rosh Hashanah celebrations for the Jewish New Year next October.
Rio de Janeiro
It's only the second biggest party in Rio de Janeiro and the end of the year fireworks display lasts just a scant 15-20 minutes. But the New Year's Eve celebration on the legendary Copacabana Beach is easily one of the largest in the world and is expected to draw well over two million people. Yet the notion of two million revelers typically dressed in white isn't even close to setting an attendance record to the annual event second in popularity only to Rio's Carnival. That distinction can be traced back to 1994, when British rocker Rod Stewart drew an astounding 3.5 million people to one of the first live New Year's Eve concerts on Copacabana. International visitors are encouraged to wear white for the huge beach party but are advised not to wear black, since it's considered extremely bad luck in the New Year. Other local traditions include offering white flowers to the Brazilian Goddess of the Sea Lemanja, jumping over seven waves when making New Year's Eve wishes and eating seven pieces of raisins by midnight. Rio de Janeiro is also one of the world's best gay destinations, making the city's New Year's Eve more popular than ever.
Although attendance falls far behind the world's largest New Year's Eve celebrations, it's hard to omit the joyous festivities hosted by the City of Lights. Once the clock strikes midnight, impressive displays of pyrotechnics will be set off near two primary spots in Paris — the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, overlooking the Champs-Élysées, with the latter hosting the city's largest celebration. Much like the final day of the Tour de France, the most famous street in Paris is nearly absent of motor vehicles. But unlike the world's most famous bike race, the Champs-Élysées is packed full of people, both on the sidewalks and on the cobblestone street itself. Adding to the grandeur of the occasion are the breathtaking holiday lights decorated along the entire 1.2-mile stretch often called the world's most beautiful avenue. The Paris Christmas Lights were revealed once again in mid-November and will run concurrently with the Champs-Élysées Christmas market and extending into the New Year until Jan. 6. Holiday illuminations and Christmas markets can be found in other prominent locations in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame. While a toast of champagne is the norm for other countries, Parisians like to take it to a much higher level, with many people holding onto their own bottles. Other popular New Year's traditions include kissing a loved one at midnight under mistletoe and exchange gifts throughout the month of January.
With an attendance that reportedly exceeds those in New York, Paris and London, Sydney hosts one of the world's largest fireworks displays for New Year's Eve. What's more, Australia's largest city is one of the first major New Year's Eve events to begin, since its time zone is 16 hours ahead of New York, 19 hours ahead of San Francisco and Los Angeles and a whopping 21 hours ahead of Honolulu. To add to the allure, Sydney boasts the world's largest natural harbor and features not one, but two enormous fireworks shows, with the earlier show intended for families with children or those who don't want to stay up until midnight. Shortly after the conclusion of the family fireworks display, the popular Harbor of Light Parade glistens across Sydney Harbor to the delight of more than 1.5 million spectators. The grand finale begins promptly at the stroke of midnight as more than 100,000 spectacular fireworks are launched from seven barges with more than one billion people watching the live telecast. In addition to setting fireworks in other Australian cities, including Melbourne and Perth, another popular tradition is to create loud noises through the use of trumpets, horns, drums and even pots and pans to “ring in” the New Year.
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