New Year's Eve
Omisoka – Japan
Hogmanay – Scotland
Festival Day – Montserrat
Whatever you call it, this is the last day of the year, according to the widely-used Gregorian calendar. For some, it is a day to clean and get ready for the New Year, and for others, it is a day of feasting and festivities.
Montserrat is a Caribbean island, and today is one of the most important days of the Festival season (which is like the Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations that occur in February or March in other nations). Festival Day is the day of the Festival Troupe competition. For several weeks, there have been masquerades and music and competitions to select the Festival Queen and King. Tomorrow there will be a parade of all the troupes who compete today.
In Scotland, Hogmanay is characterized by “first-footing,” which means visiting people with gifts of food and drink immediately after midnight. The gifts are supposed to be symbolic of luck for the coming year.
A custom local to north-east Scotland is described on Wikipedia:
WARNING: Don't try this at home!
This involves local people making up 'balls' of chicken wire filled with old newspaper, dried sticks, old cotton rags, and other dry flammable material up to a diameter of 61 cm. Each ball has 2 m of wire, chain or nonflammable rope attached. As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the swingers set off up the High Street... swinging their burning ball around their head as they go for as many times as they and their fireball last. At the end of the ceremony any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbour.
Wikipedia reports that the 2007/2008 Hogmanay event was attended by 12,000 people, and that the event is now streamed live over the Internet. Presumably that includes the musical acts before the fireball swinging, and the fireworks after!
In Japan, Omisoka is marked by the year's biggest housecleaning followed by the year's biggest dinner. At midnight, many visit a Shinto shrine, where large cast bells are struck 108 times (to represent the 108 earthly desires that cause human suffering).
In the U.S., parties and fireworks and shows are all common on New Year's Eve. Some of the most popular spots to enjoy these things remain Times Square in Manhattan, NYC, Las Vegas, and Disneyland.
Kids' New Year
Sparkling apple cider, noisemakers, streamers, confetti, and maybe even a midnight balloon shower are great fun for kids who aren't normally allowed to stay up until midnight!
For how-to advice on making a balloon shower, go here.
Another idea from a parent is unrolling bubble wrap on a hardwood floor and jumping onto it at midnight. (See details of this idea here.)
Some parents celebrate the New Year at someone else's midnight. For example, with a countdown-to-midnight and ball-drop televised from New York City airing at 10 p.m. Mountain Time and 9 p.m. Pacific Time, kids can experience the excitement of the New Year but still get a full night's sleep.
New Year's Fortunes, Predictions, and Resolutions
Another warning: Make sure everybody "gets" that fortunes and predictions are just for fun, no magic at all...
Write fun fortunes and tuck them between layers of a cake, with curling ribbon sticking out all around the cake so family members or friends can pull out a random fortune. Or play magnet-fish with the paper-clipped fortunes being the fish. Fortune cookies or simply drawing fortunes out of a bowl are some other possibilities.
It can be fun to make predictions for the coming year. Consider tucking away the predictions until New Year's Eve next year—then you can check and see how many of your predictions came true.
Finally, write some New Year's resolutions. Try to be realistic and specific, and it will be much easier to fulfill your resolutions!