New Year's Eve or Old Year's Night is observed on December 31, the final day of the Gregorian year, even in non-Christian nations. The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays and was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago.
Fireworks displays, music and other forms of noise-making at the stroke of midnight (to scare away malevolent spirits) are often part of the New Year's Eve celebration.
Early bird special
The Republic of Kiribati is the first country to receive the new year. Kiritimati (UTC+14) is the first place to see the sun rise.
Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands): traditional dance
Gods, saints and 108 sins
Many countries in Western and Eastern Europe call New Year's Eve ‘Silvester’ because 31 December is the feast day of Pope St. Sylvester. Some Christian denominations still observe New Year’s as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision.
The Japanese prepare to welcome Toshigami, the New Year's god. Traditionally, people clean their homes and prepare Kadomatsu and/or Shimenawa to welcome the god before New Year's Eve.
Buddhist temples toll their bells 108 times at midnight. This tradition is called joya no kane, which means ‘bell rings on New Year’s Eve night’. The rings represent (and repent for) the 108 elements of bonō, defilements, that people have in their minds.
Gee, just what I wanted
Traditions of the season include making New Year's resolutions, which dates back to the Babylonians. The early Babylonians' most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.
Scotland celebrates New Year (Hogmanay) with several customs, such as First Footing. This involves friends or family members visiting each other with a gift of whisky, and sometimes a lump of coal.
Welsh celebrations on New Year's Eve are known as Calennig. The tradition of giving gifts and money on New Year's Day is an ancient custom, though nowadays it is customary to give bread and cheese.
Sounds like fun, I guess
Modern Danes celebrate New Year's Eve (nytårsaften) with fireworks and champagne. But in the old days, people went around town and threw old dishes at the doors of their friends and families. The amount of broken cutlery heaped at a door was a measure of the popularity of the owner.
'Bleigießen' is a German New Year's Eve custom, which involves telling fortunes from the shapes made by molten lead dropped into cold water.
Traditionally, people thought they could affect their luck throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year.
Spanish tradition says that wearing new, red underwear on New Year's Eve brings good luck. It is also traditional to eat twelve grapes, one on each chime of the clock in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. This tradition originated in 1909, when the grape growers thought of it as a way to cut down on the large production surplus they had had that year. Nowadays, the tradition is followed by almost every Spaniard.
South and Central American countries, like Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala, follow many of the traditions from Spain. They also eat twelve grapes with the chimes of the clock, making a wish with each one. Those who want to find love in the new year are supposed to wear red underwear on New Year's Eve and yellow underwear is worn to bring happiness (or money, depending on the country). Walking around the block with a suitcase will bring someone the journey of their dreams.
Brazilians celebrate Ano Novo, which officially marks the beginning of the summer holidays. Brazilians usually dress in white to bring good luck into the new year.
Most Filipinos follow traditions such as wearing clothes with circular patterns like polka dots, in the belief that circles attract money and fortune. Throwing coins at the stroke of midnight is said to increase wealth that year. Traditions also include the serving of circular-shaped fruits, shaking of coins inside a metal casserole while walking around the house, and jumping up high which is believed to cause an increase in physical height.
Many parts of the US celebrate the new year by eating black-eyed peas, considered good luck in many cultures. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable. Cabbage leaves are considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency.
Philippines, Manila : Street vendors wait for last minute shoppers for roasted pig, a popular Filipino New Year's Eve dinner food. Filipinos welcome the New Year with a sumptuous dinner followed by noise making and revelry in the belief it would drive away evil spirits
Muslims do not traditionally celebrate the beginning of a new year with festivities. They mark the passage of time and welcome the new year with peace and prayers. The Islamic New Year's Day is based on the Islamic lunar calendar, counted from the year of the Hijra - the departure of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina.
Muharram is the month at the beginning of the Islamic year. Some Muslims mark the start of the Islamic year on the first day of Muharram. Others start to prepare for the Day of Ashura on the tenth day of the month. This observance applies to Muslims worldwide.
Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year) 2011: Sunday, November 27, 2011
Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year) 2012: Thursday, November 15, 2012
On 13 January, a large part of the Serbian population celebrates "Serbian New Year" according to the Julian calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
Macedonia, Vevchani : A carnival troop covered with mud parades on 13 January in the streets of Vevchani, 180 kilometers southwest from capital Skopje. The Vevchani carnival is 1,400 years old and is held every year on the eve of the feast of Saint Basil (14 January), which also marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Julian calendar, observed by the Macedonian Orthodox ChurchIn the former Soviet Union, New Year has the same cultural significance as Christmas has in the United States, but without the religious connotations. Ded Moroz looks similar to Santa Claus, except he wears robes and instead of reindeer, he is pulled by a troika (a three-horse drawn sled). New Year is often considered a ‘pre-celebration’ for the Eastern Orthodox living in Eastern Europe, since Christmas is celebrated on January 7 according to their tradition.
The Chinese calendar consists of both Gregorian and lunar-solar calendar systems. Because the track of the new moon changes from year to year, Chinese New Year can begin anytime between late January and mid-February. On 23 January 2012, we will enter the Year of the Dragon.
China, Beijing : A man blows smoke after stuffing his mouth with unidentified powder during a performance at a temple fair in Beijing, on the second day of the Lunar New Year
LB / Expatica 2011
This article compiled from information on Wikipedia, About.com, wilstar.com, apples4theteacher.com, and timeanddate.com