10 of the World's Most Entertaining New Year's Customs

iStock
iStock

Watching the ball drop in Times Square, raising a toast, and sealing the night with a smooch may be the most quintessentially American ways to celebrate, but around the world, revelers and party-goers give the traditional ball drop a run for its money. From shattering dishes to carefully choosing underwear for the night, here are 10 of the world’s most entertaining ways to ring in the New Year.

1. BRAZIL // UNDERWEAR ATTIRE

Getty

While some of us don our most shimmery dresses for the New Year's party—or our comfiest pajamas to celebrate with a low-key night in—Brazilians take a much simpler, minimalistic approach to ringing in the New Year: The dress code is for all-white attire, but the color of your underwear is thought to determine your arena of luck in the new year. Want to find love? Pick the pink panties. Financial security may be attained by wearing yellow undergarments, and green is for good health.

2. DENMARK // SHATTERING DISHES

The Danish get a jump on cleaning out their cupboards by taking any chipped or unused crockery and shattering it against their friends' and families' doors to ring in the new year. The more plate pieces piled at your doorstep, the more popular your family … which may or may not make the next day's hungover cleanup more manageable.

3. SPAIN // A MOUTH FULL OF GRAPES

The Spanish don’t just celebrate the New Year with drink in hand—they ring it in with a mouth full of grapes. If you can fit 12 grapes into your mouth at midnight, you’re believed to have great luck in the coming year.

4. SIBERIA // LAKE DIVING WITH A "NEW YEAR TREE"

A typical ball-and-gown party doesn’t cut it in Siberia; they’re all about the thrill—and chill. To celebrate the New Year, some revelers participate in the annual "jump into a frozen lake and plant a New Year's Tree at the bottom" tradition—sort of like a more extreme Polar Plunge. The divers then pass the champagne and dance around the tree before coming back up to the surface. But even those who don't do the full tree dive will go for their own frozen swim—there's a reason all Russian bath houses have an icy cold pool! It's practically a national pastime.

5. CHILE // CEMETERY SLEEPOVER

In the town of Talca, Chile, locals add extra spirit to New Year’s Eve by celebrating the holiday in a cemetery, surrounded by all of their deceased loved ones. Legend has it this tradition started with a little breaking and entering, but it’s now a welcomed celebration that draws locals in by the thousands.

6. ESTONIA // EATING SEVEN TIMES ON NEW YEAR'S DAY

Estonia knows how to kick off the New Year right. Instead of resolving to diet and exercise, they eat—a lot. Traditionally, Estonians believed that by eating seven times on New Year’s Day, they could ensure a well-fed, abundant year. While this tradition has changed slightly over the years—Estonians celebrate with alcohol as much as food these days—it’s a tradition party-goers around the world participate in without even realizing it. (Cough, Seamless binge, cough.)

7. THAILAND // WATER FIGHT

While the Thai New Year isn’t until April 13, their celebratory festival, called Songkran, is just too good to pass up: a water fight. Yes, a full-on water fight where major roads are blocked off and Thai locals—and, as you’d imagine, loads of visitors—use buckets, fire hoses, water guns, and even elephants to throw water at each other. Inner child, rejoice—and purchase Songkran plane tickets immediately.

8. ECUADOR // BURNING EFFIGIES

Ecuador literally lights up on New Year’s Eve. Locals make large, paper-filled effigies that can resemble anyone from beloved pop culture figures like Homer Simpson to maligned politicians, and they set them on fire when the clock strikes midnight. As the tale goes, this burning ritual lets Ecuadorians forget the past and focus on a good New Year.

9. AUSTRALIA // SYDNEY FIREWORKS DISPLAY

As one of the first countries to celebrate the New Year, Australians kick off the festivities with a major bang—to the tune of seven firework-filled barges. The annual 12-minute show—one of the world’s largest fireworks displays—dazzles more than 1 million spectators who gather along the waterfront, with the beautiful Sydney Opera House as its backdrop. They even host an earlier fireworks show, at 9 p.m., for any little Aussies whose bedtime is long before the main event.

10. SOUTH AFRICA // THROWING HOUSEHOLD ITEMS OUT THE WINDOW

To end things on a slightly absurd (and rather unsafe) note, we have Johannesburg, South Africa, where locals ring in the New Year by throwing old household items out the window—a quite literal "out with the old" type of symbolism. The tradition has gotten a bit out of hand in recent years, as residents in high-rise buildings have taken to tossing furniture, appliances, bottles and, well, just about anything out the windows. As you’d expect, this tradition comes with its set of annual injuries, but local government is doing its part to keep the New Year’s celebrations safe—even if it’s accompanied by the age-old warning, "Watch out below!"

All images via Getty.

Autumn Equinox: The Science Behind the First Day of Fall

iStock
iStock

On September 22, the Sun will shine directly over the equator—the midpoint of the Earth. (For 2018, this moment will happen at 9:54 p.m. ET.) The whole world will thus experience a day and night of equal length. In the Northern Hemisphere, we call this the autumn equinox. It marks the first day of fall. Around the world, people are marking the day with ceremonies, some of them ancient (and some less so).

You might be wondering two things: 1. Why on almost every other day of the year (the vernal equinox being the other exception) do different parts of the world have days and nights of differing length? 2. What do they call the day in the Southern Hemisphere?

A DAY AT THE BEACH

The answer to each of these questions resides in the Earth's axial tilt. The easiest way to imagine that tilt is to think about tanning on the beach. (Stay with me here.) If you lay on your stomach, your back gets blasted by the Sun. You don't wait 30 minutes then flop over and call it a day. Rather, as you tan, every once in a while, you shift positions a little. Maybe you lay a bit more on one side. Maybe you lift a shoulder, move a leg a little. Why? Because you want the Sun to shine directly on a different part of you. You want an even tan.

It might seem a little silly when you think about it. The Sun is a giant fusion reactor 93 million miles away. Solar radiation is hitting your entire back and arms and legs and so on whether or not you adjust your shoulder just so. But you adjust, and it really does improve your tan, and you know this instinctively.

People light candles during the autumn equinox celebration at Neris River waterfront in Vilnius, Lithuania after sunset on September 21, 2013.
People light candles during the autumn equinox celebration at Neris River waterfront in Vilnius, Lithuania after sunset on September 21, 2013.
PETRAS MALUKAS, AFP/Getty Images

The Earth works a lot like that, except it's operating by physics, not instinct. If there were no tilt, only one line of latitude would ever receive the most direct blast of sunlight: the equator. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the planet would be bathed in sunlight, but it would only be the equator that would always get the most direct hit (and the darkest tan). But the Earth does have a tilt. Shove a pole through the planet with one end sticking out the North Pole and one end sticking out the South, and angle the whole thing by 23.5 degrees. That's the grade of Earth's tilt.

Now spin our little skewered Earth and place it in orbit around the Sun. At various points in the orbit, the Sun will shine directly on different latitudes. It will shine directly on the equator twice in a complete orbit—the fall and spring equinoxes—and at various points in the year, the most direct blast of sunlight will slide up or down. The highest latitude receiving direct sunlight is called the Tropic of Cancer. The lowest point is the Tropic of Capricorn. The poles, you will note, are snow white. They have, if you will, a terrible tan—and that's because they never receive solar radiation from a directly overhead Sun (even during the long polar summer, when the Sun never sinks below the horizon).

WHEN DO THE SEASONS CHANGE?

A Maya priestess conducts an autumn equinox ceremony at El Salvador's Cihuatan Archeological Park.
A Maya priestess conducts an autumn equinox ceremony at El Salvador's Cihuatan Archeological Park.
Jose CABEZAS, AFP/Getty Images

The seasons have nothing to do with the Earth's distance from the Sun. Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons. The Sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer (66.5 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere) on June 21 or 22. When that occurs, the Northern Hemisphere is in the summer solstice. The days grow long and hot. As the year elapses, the days slowly get shorter and cooler as summer gives way to autumn. On September 21 or 22, the Sun's direct light has reached the equator. Days and night reach parity, and because the Sun is hitting the whole world head-on, every latitude experiences this simultaneously.

On December 21 or 22, the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning the Northern Hemisphere is receiving the least sunlight it will get all year. The Northern Hemisphere is therefore in winter solstice. Our days are short and nights are long. Parity will again be reached on March 21 or 22, the vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere, and the whole process will repeat itself.

Members of The Druid Order of London conduct a ceremony on Primrose Hill to celebrate the Autumn Equinox on September 22, 2008 in London, England.
Members of The Druid Order of London conduct a ceremony on Primrose Hill to celebrate the Autumn Equinox on September 22, 2008 in London, England. The Druid Order of London, which was founded in Oxford in 1245, has been conducting the Autumn Equinox ceremony on Primrose Hill since 1717.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

Now reverse all of this for the Southern Hemisphere. When we're at autumnal equinox, they're at vernal equinox. Happy first day of spring, Southern Hemisphere!

And welcome to fall, Northern Hemisphere! Enjoy this long day of sunlight, because dark days are ahead. You'll get less and less light until the winter solstice, and the days will grow colder. Take solace, though, in knowing that the whole world is experiencing the very same thing. Now it's the Southern Hemisphere's turn to get ready to spend some time at the beach.

This story first ran in 2016.

The 13 Scariest Haunted Houses in America

iStock
iStock

Horror lovers will feel right at home in New York or Ohio. Attractions in those states claim four out of 13 spots on Halloween expert Larry Kirchner’s new list of America’s scariest haunted houses. Drawing upon his 25 years of experience designing and installing Halloween attractions, Kirchner releases the list on his website, Hauntworld.com, each year.

This year, Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, New York, tops the list. A historic 18th-century manor provides a spooky backdrop to the haunt, which includes a theatrical hayride, corn maze, eight haunted attractions, and escape rooms. “Dr. Dark’s Circus Side Show” (with everyone’s favorite: creepy clowns) will be one of the new themes offered this year, and another new section called “Two Raven’s Manor” will feature stunt actors and a magician.

The runner-up on Kirchner’s list is Field of Screams in Mountville, Pennsylvania. The attraction promises its hayride will be “the most disturbing ride of your life through thick rows of corn.” Expect to see demented doctors, evil nurses, chainsaw and ax murderers, and miscellaneous monsters.

Check out the full list of attractions below, and head to Haunt World’s website for additional details.

1. Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses: Ulster Park, New York
2. Field of Screams: Mountville, Pennsylvania
3. The Dent Schoolhouse: Cincinnati, Ohio
4. 13th Gate: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
5. Netherworld: Atlanta, Georgia
6. Nightmare on 13th: Salt Lake City, Utah
7. Haunted Schoolhouse & Laboratory: Akron, Ohio
8. Bennett’s Curse: Baltimore, Maryland
9. Haunted Overload: Lee, New Hampshire
10. Erebus: Pontiac, Michigan
11. Hell’s Gate: Lockport, Illinois
12. The Darkness: St. Louis, Missouri
13. Bayville Screampark: Bayville, New York

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER