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Goodbye, Hello: Making the Most of New Year’s After a Loss


Every December 31, we prepare to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new. But for someone dealing with the death of a loved one, New Year’s Eve can feel like another uphill slog in an endless holiday season. We’ve collected New Year’s traditions from around the world – some silly, some touching – that we hope will make this difficult time a little easier for you. 

Why New Year’s Is Challenging When You’re Grieving

At a time when families and friends gather and celebrate, you might feel like an outsider in your grief. Along with the genuine physical and emotional changes that sorrow brings, it is natural to feel especially sad during the winter holidays for many reasons:

  • You’re dreading the first year without your loved one.
  • You are reluctant to let go of the past, however distressing, because it is familiar. 
  • You relive memories of past celebrations with your loved one.
  • You are adjusting to life without your loved one and the financial, physical, and social challenges it brings.

Most of all, be gentle with yourself. As Lisa DeSieno, the bereavement services director for the Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, says, “You're grieving because you've loved, have been loved, and continue to love. An important part of your healing this holiday season may be to embrace the love and memories you've shared with your loved ones. Let your feelings be your guide.”

Traditions from Around the World to Ring in the New Year

If you and your loved one had a specific tradition for welcoming the new year, here are suggestions to try something different. From plate-tossing in Denmark to grape-chomping in Spain and the grand spectacle of shiny objects dropping in the U.S., you’ll discover more than one way to observe New Year’s Eve with these fascinating customs from around the globe. 

United States - The Ball Drop

In America, watching a giant sparkling ball drop from a flagpole in New York City’s Times Square has been a tradition since 1907. Early versions were made from iron and wood and then covered with light bulbs. Today, the Ball (as it’s called) is a geodesic sphere with an aluminum skin covered with 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles and over 8,000 LED lights. It is 12 feet in diameter and weighs 11,875 pounds. The eye-catching orb sits atop One Times Square throughout the year.

Other cities have their version of the Times Square ball drop. In Mount Olive, NC, you can watch a giant pickle fall. For Key West, FL, it’s a conch shell; in Eastport, ME, a sardine; and Plymouth, WI, the Big Cheese falls exactly at midnight every December 31st. 

Spain - The Twelve Grapes

Since 1895, it’s been a custom in Spain to eat 12 grapes to each toll of a clock’s bell (or countdown) to bring luck for the dozen upcoming months of the new year. This Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve in Spanish) tradition is also observed in Mexico. At midnight, celebrators eat las doce uvas de la suerte (translation: 12 grapes for luck) at home or in the main squares around the country.

France - Oysters & Champagne

It's common to pop the cork on New Year’s Eve, whether sparkling wine or cider. In France, celebrants enjoy Champagne at a traditional evening feast called the Réveillon de la Saint Sylvestre. This feast includes oysters, foie gras, and a special pastry called the bûche, similar to a Yuletide log. At midnight, guests toast, play noisemakers, and wish each other Bonne Année (Happy New Year). 

Japan - New Beginning

The Japanese regard New Year’s Eve as a new beginning and a chance to welcome Toshigami, the god of the new year. Families often gather to enjoy “toshikoshi soba,” a special buckwheat noodle dish consumed just before midnight to symbolize longevity and bid farewell to the old year. They also use December 31 for osouji (“deep cleaning”) for a fresh, clean start to the new year. 

Discover how rituals help us navigate life, death, and grief. 

Russia - 12 Minutes of Silence

Unlike the boisterous countdowns often seen in other parts of the world, some Russians take a unique and reflective turn just before the stroke of midnight. In this heartfelt tradition, people observe one moment of silence as a final reflection of the last 12 months. It is also a chance to make personal affirmations or intentions for the year ahead. 

Denmark - Throw Plates

In direct and noisy contrast to the silent Russian contemplation before midnight, the Irish bang pots and pans to scare away unwanted spirits and poor fortune. The tradition might be limited to a single household but also involves groups of children and young adults carrying musical instruments, pots, and pans. It is a loud and lively way to observe New Year’s Eve.

A Danish New Year’s Eve tradition also involves a lot of noise – and broken dishes. On December 31st, partygoers throw old plates, cups, and glasses against the front door to ward off bad luck in the coming months.

Chile - Visit a Loved One’s Grave 

The practice of visiting cemeteries on New Year's Eve in Chile is known as "Vispera de Ano Nuevo," which translates to "New Year's Eve Vigil." This tradition is deeply rooted in Chilean culture and reflects the importance of family and remembrance.

On New Year's Eve, many Chileans visit the graves of their deceased loved ones. They bring flowers, candles, and other offerings to the cemetery to pay their respects. It's a time for reflection, prayer, and connection with those who have passed away. Families often gather at the cemetery, sharing stories and memories of their departed family members.

Romania - Toss a Coin Into a River or Fountain

You probably know the custom of making a wish and tossing a coin into a fountain, stream, or river. In Romania, tossing a coin on New Year’s Eve symbolizes letting go of the old year's troubles and welcoming new opportunities and good fortune in the year ahead. It's a simple yet meaningful way to mark the transition from one year to the next and to express hopes for a happier future.

Learn how different religions approach death and grief. 

Brazil and Philippines - Wear Special Clothes

The Brazilian custom of wearing white clothing on New Year’s Eve represents a fresh, clean start for the coming months. White is also considered a color that attracts good luck and positive energy. By wearing white, people hope to invite good fortune into their lives in the coming year. Finally, wearing the same color as everyone else on New Year's Eve is seen as a symbol of unity and togetherness. It fosters a sense of community and shared optimism for the future.

Like Brazil, a New Year tradition in the Philippines involves specific clothing. Filipino men and women wear clothes with polka dots to invite fortune and prosperity since the dots resemble coins. 

Global - Sing “Auld Lang Syne”

People worldwide hold hands and form a circle while singing "Auld Lang Syne" to reaffirm friendship or love into the new year. This traditional folk song was written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in the late 18th century and has since become synonymous with bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming the new one. The phrase "Auld Lang Syne" is translated to "times gone by" or "days of old:”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and the days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

We'll drink a cup of kindness yet for the sake of auld lang syne.

What to Say Instead of ‘Happy New Year’ to Someone Grieving

For someone who recently lost a loved one, saying “Happy New Year” is not the most appropriate greeting. You wish them well, but try one of these suggestions for a more thoughtful way to express your feelings:

  • I understand how challenging it must be to start this new year without (name). I miss them as well.
  • We'd be delighted if you could ring in the new year with friends. Would you consider joining us?
  • I'm sorry that (name) is not here to start this new year by your side.
  • I am thinking of you on this New Year's Eve, knowing it's not the same without (name).
  • I hope the new year brings you healing and strength.
  • I know this time of year can be difficult, and I'm here for you.

Hope in the New Year

The first birthday, anniversary, holiday, or New Year’s Eve without your loved one can feel heartbreaking. Grief does not care about the season or celebration — so having people around you who care about you during these challenging times is essential. Lean on family members, friends, faith groups, grief support groups, or professional counselors. With time, the sharp feelings of grief will become more manageable as you grow stronger and more hopeful. 

For more grief support from Tulip, click here for our expert advice guides.