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- By David Prior -

You know about the ball drop in Times Square and the fireworks in Sydney Harbour, but if you’re thinking up something different to mark the New Year, cast your imagination to these celebrations around the world.

Ritual ceremony in honor to Yemanjá, shot by Jan Sochor

Réveillon, Brazil

While the north of the globe freezes through New Year’s Eve, many Brazilians make for the beach to celebrate Réveillon, an open-air party that exuberantly marries ritual with revelry. In the city of Salvador, a center of Afro-Brazilian culture, you can swing with the locals in unshy abandon to the raucous rhythms of axé, its homegrown soundtrack. To attract peace and prosperity, locals dress in white and cast flowers, perfumes and mementos to the ocean to gain the blessings of Yemanja, the goddess of the seas. At midnight, fireworks illuminate the water and fishermen’s boats dotted around the bay.

Melasti purification ceremony performed before Nyepi

Nyepi, Indonesia

The day before the Balinese New Year every March, the only noise you will hear are roosters, dogs and water tumbling through rivers and streams as the Indonesian island falls silent for Nyepi during an official day of quiet, meditation and self-reflection. There are four strictly observed rules for the twenty-four-hour period: no travel, activity, travel or fire (which, in the age of electricity, includes lights). Prior to the festival, villagers carry enormous ogoh-ogoh effigies representing evil spirits through the streets. After chasing away the demons, locals then purify their minds and engage in introspection. The ultimate holiday for the ears, Nyepi allows residents and visitors alike to hear themselves think again.

The first Shinto shrine visit of the Japanese New Year is known as Hatsumōde

Japanese New Year

While you can join the hordes huddled under the digital billboards of Shibuya Crossing to usher in the New Year in Tokyo, for a more enriching experience, visit one of the city’s many Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines where, in keeping with tradition, bells and are sounded exactly 108 times. At some sites, you’ll find devotees clad in traditional garb and booths offering lucky charms, sake and food, including buckwheat noodles, which are commonly consumed on the night. At each site, a bell is tolled in succession leading up to midnight to cleanse the soul of its worldly frustrations for the year ahead.

Residents playing drums for Ashura © DR

Ashura, Morocco

In Morocco, Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is marked by a celebration called Ashura. In the souks of its cities, stalls heave with musical instruments for the event, including taarija drums, which are played by young people who gather in their neighborhoods to sing traditional songs. A variety of dried fruits, pastries and sweets are gifted are exchanged, such as fekkas, biscuits resembling biscotti that’s made with almond and raisins. On the eve of the day, children light firecrackers and throw water balloons at each other to kick off the festivities.

Traditional Sri Lankan delicacies for Avurudu © BT Images

Sri Lankan New Year

While the Sri Lankan New Year is observed in different ways by Sinhala and Tamil households, food and family are at the heart of the holiday each April. In Sinhalese communities—where the festival is known as Avurudu—drumming can be heard in temples and the aromas of frying and baking can be smelt from households, where sweets such as aggala and kokis are prepared. For Tamil Hindus, who celebrate Puththandu at the same time, herbs are boiled with milk, saffron and flowers to anoint the heads of family, and sweet rice with jaggery, cashew nuts and plums is lovingly prepared. The island takes on a relaxed, festive mood during the period, as residents exchange gifts and share meals with family and friends to welcome the New Year on positive note.


Written by David Prior, Founder and CEO of PRIOR members-only travel club. Discover PRIOR’s tailored itineraries and library of one-off experiences, journeys, events and parties across the globe at .