21 Low-Key (But Amazing) Ways to Ring in the New Year
Keep those stilettos and suits in storage, and opt for these fancy-free ways to celebrate with bundts, beans, bells, and more.
If there is one lesson to take away from 2021, it’s that it is entirely possible to live a meaningful life without even glancing at an uncomfortable shoe. Time passes, and milestones can be celebrated, even if no one pops a Champagne cork, or wears a little black dress, or is forced to put on a party hat.
In this spirit, we present to you 22 Sunset-approved ways to welcome the new year that do not involve ride-share surge pricing, unruly crowds, or overpriced restaurants. Camp in the backyard to welcome the first sunrise, tuck in to a puzzle, slurp some noodles for good luck, wear red underwear, or get witchy with some ritual candles. There’s no time like the present to start a new tradition.
1. Countdown to midnight—on Reykjavik time—around a fire pit.
In Iceland, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with community bonfires. And eight hours ahead of Pacific Time. So, light up the outdoor fireplace, or break out your smokeless stove, invite a few friends over to warm their fingers and toes for a sunset celebration, and let that proverbial ball drop at 4 p.m.
2. Watch the sunrise.
In Japan, there is a word for welcoming the first sunrise of the year: Hatsuhinode. For a Shintoist, waking before the sun peeks over the horizon is a sacred tradition. And witnessing the first light of the new year brings good luck. Why not set up camp in your backyard to wait for the first rays to light up the sky?
3. Eat soba noodles.
Long noodles are a symbol of good luck and a long life in many Asian cultures, and if you slurp some down on the last night of the year, superstition holds that you’re welcoming good fortune for the months ahead. In Japan, many eat soba or udon at midnight, and try to eat one without chewing or breaking it for extra longevity.
4. Dye some undies red, Italian style.
Italians have been known to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. It guarantees luck and success in the months ahead. Take it up a notch and get crafty by dying your own.
5. Ring a bell 108 times.
Buddhist temples in Japan ring a bell 107 times on the last day of the year—and once more when the clock strikes midnight. It’s meant to drive away all 108 “worldly desires” that prohibit a human from achieving nirvana.
6. Break some old plates.
In Denmark, they smash old plates outside their front door at the strike of midnight. The superstition behind this is unclear, but it sounds deeply satisfying. We recommend wearing protective eyewear. And hands off the Heath ceramics.
7. Wear polka dots.
In the Philippines, people wear polka dots on New Year’s Eve, because round shapes represent prosperity. You could add a little spin on that and set a table with festive dotted napkins, and feast on this Sunset-style Filipino barbecue.
8. Eat oranges.
Oranges are also thought to symbolize good luck because of their round shape. Lucky for us, it’s Cara Cara season in California. Dry some slices to make a garland, or liven things up a little by making sparkling oranges, with Prosecco or nonalcoholic bubbly.
9. Try some magical thinking.
The end of a difficult year seems like the right time to blow the cobwebs out of your brain with a guided meditation. Follow Los Angeles-based meditation guide Jessica Snow on one of her trippy, beautiful journeys—downloadable for $5 on her site, You Are Magic—and kick off the new year feeling more grounded and expansive.
10. Light a ritual candle.
Want to “cleanse negativity,” invite prosperity, or unlock some moon magic in your life? Make a witchy Yule-inspired altar with colored candles and invite some new energy to mix things up. The Los Angeles crystal store Spellbound Sky, which calls itself a metaphysical supply shop, sells ritual candles that are poured and blessed during the new moon, and has one for each of your heart’s desires.
11. Make a calendar with your favorite social media photos.
One way to usher in a new year is to pause to reflect on the one that just passed. Browsing through a year in photos may help you remember the good things that happened instead of dwelling on the bad. Social Print Studio will create a tear-away calendar (or a teeny tiny book) of your favorite images from the last year.
12. Hang onions on your front door. Or just make a pizza.
There’s a new year tradition in Greece that involves hanging a wreath of onions on the front door to fend off bad spirits. But the scent of this four-onion pizza (made with four alliums—scallions, leeks, chives, and garlic) from the Sunset archives coming from your kitchen may do the trick.
14. Play a game that makes you think.
The Dilemmas Game from The School of Life organization invites you to “flex your moral muscles” and tune up your problem-solving skills by proposing solutions to 52 common dilemmas. Alternatively, Azul is a strategic game using tiles to create beautiful mosaics that gets thousands of five-star reviews on Amazon and is easy on the eyes. Why not stay cozy at home with an epic year-end game night? Or break out a favorite Liberty puzzle and settle in for a good long while.
15. Welcome the year of the tiger with a movie marathon.
That’s right, 2022 is the year of the Water Tiger, according to the Chinese Zodiac, and wisdom holds that it will bring “positive changes.” (Fingers crossed.) Why not use this occasion as an excuse to stay in for a tiger film double feature? Start with Life of Pi and roll in to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
16. Eat 12 grapes in under a minute.
In Spain, there’s a New Year’s Eve tradition that involves eating a dozen grapes in under 60 seconds, one for each chime of the clock, and making 12 wishes as you go. Maybe try roasting them on a sheet pan, then serving with a triple cream cheese and a fresh baguette?
17. Make tamales with your friends.
While the Mexican tradition of a tamale party—aka a tamalada—isn’t exclusive to New Year celebrations, it’s popular around the holidays, and a great way to spend time with friends and family preparing and eating food together. Here’s a step-by-step guide to hosting your own.
18. Prepare some black-eyed peas.
The Hoppin’ John tradition of eating black-eyed peas and cornbread on New Year’s Day is more popular in the South than it is in the West, but beans and lentils are part of a traditional New Year’s meal in several cultures around the world (in Brazil, Hungary, and Puerto Rico). A hearty bean or lentil stew on a winter’s night is always a good idea.
19. Bake a round dessert.
Bundt cakes are never a bad idea, either, but they hold special symbolism at the end of a year because they evoke the imagery of the circle of life and the cycle of time—the end of one thing leading to the beginning of another. Round sweets like donuts are also popular end-of-year treats for the same reasons.
20. And hide a single coin inside of that dessert.
If you do bake that bundt, level it up by adopting the Mexican tradition of a baking a coin into pan dulce. Whoever gets the slice with the coin is graced with good luck for the new year. Just make sure to give your guests a heads up to avoid emergency dentistry.
21. Take the polar bear plunge.
Where this freezing-water swim on the first day of the year originated is a point of contention, but Canadians take pride in ownership of this traditional freezing dip (also known as the Polar Bear Swim), and there are six scheduled every year in the city of Vancouver alone. Either way, the chilly Pacific, and plenty of brisk lakes, are there for the taking.