From water fights to chicken gifts: Photo series shows how celebrate New Year around the world

There’s lots of ways to welcome in the New Year (Picture: Wateraid)

When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow and this year comes to a close, we’ll celebrate with drinks and fireworks.

But around the world, they celebrate the coming of a new year differently.

From water fights and bathing rituals to giving chickens as a gift and using cow dung to polish the floor, this photo series reveals how people welcome moving into a new year in ten different countries.

WaterAid created the seriesas part of its Access Denied campaign, which aims to raise £2 million to help poor communities around the world build a better future with clean water and decent toilets.

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid said: The New Year is a great time for celebration, and around the world, people carry out traditions in the hope of bringing good luck for the year ahead.

‘For the millions of people with no clean water or decent sanitation, dreams of a healthy, prosperous year ahead are at risk as they are denied an equal chance to be healthy, educated and financially secure.’


In Scotland, the tradition of first footing means the first person to enter the household after midnight on 1 January usually brings gifts such as whisky, coal or shortbread. They symbolise good fortune for the coming year.

Ewan Robertson, 58, from Scotland, will be doing the tradition this year. He said: ‘The first-foot is a chance to get together to look forward to all the opportunities the year ahead could bring, to celebrate how lucky we are to be warm, well and loved.

‘It is a time to remember that we live in an amazing country, that we have the opportunities to help others and to look after each other, our families and our friends around the world and to use our gifts and talents to make the world a better place.’

A first footing in Scotland (Picture: Ian R Fleming/ Water Aid)


Ashura Masanja, 28, cooks a New Year meal of pilau rice with vegetables and meat, either a goat or cow that was slaughtered that day. She cooks alongside other women who cook on stoves outside and fetch the water needed to boil rice and cook the vegetables. She will eat with family and the community.

Ashura Masanja cooking the New Year meal (Picture: Water Aid)
Enjoying the rice (Picture: Water Aid)
The family eat and celebrate together (Picture: Water Aid)


Shafique and his family are Christians in Pakistan. To celebrate the New Year, they visit a special church service on New Year’s Eve followed by a meal which includes fish, biryani, and gajjar ka halwa (carrot pudding).

They also give kheer (a Pakistani sweet dish) to their neighbours.

Shafique Gulzar, 31, and his family, wife Sania, 4 year old son Abraham and his niece and nephew sit together in New Iqbal Town, Islamabad (Picture: Water Aid)


In Cambodia, a New Year tradition is for families to wash elders in a holy bath to get rid of the sins of the previous year and bring blessings for the year ahead.

Horn Lim, 68, is surrounded by her family who will give her a holy bath for elders in KangKeab village, Cambodia (Picture: Water Aid)
Horn Lim is given her holy bath (Picture: Water Aid)


In Ethiopia, before New Year’s Day, people wash clothes, carpets and blankets in order to start the new year clean and tidy. People also use cow dung to polish the walls and floors of their houses as part of a house cleaning tradition to banish dust, illness and fleas and to bring good health for the coming year.

Senede washes blankets in a nearby river to prepare for the new year (Picture: Water Aid)
Senede polishes her floor with cow dung in Weynema Workima Kebele, Jabi Tehnan District, West Gojjam (Picture: Water Aid)


For the Karamajong tribe, it is traditional to mix balls of black soil with water, sorghum and bear to create a paste that is smeared on women’s faces as part of the Ngasuban new year ritual to bring a good harvest.

Another part of the tradition is that women smear cow ghee on their faces to symbolise peace. It is thought to prevent bad omens that could bring drought or floods.

Otyang Mary, 40, scoops water from a water hole made by the banks of River Nataa to use as part of the Ngasuban ritual (Picture: Water Aid)
Balls of black soil are collected by the Karamajong tribe (Picture: Water Aid)
Veronica Lomonyang, 68, smears Otyang Mary, 40, with a mixture of black mud, mixed with water from the river, sorghum and local beer (Picture: Water Aid)
Otyang Mary, 40, smears cow ghee on Akol Maria, 70, in Ariamaoi village (Picture: Water Aid)


In Japan, it is traditional to visit a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine for Hatsumode. People wash their hands and rinse their mouths at the entrance before praying for happiness for the coming year.

They then choose a fortune slip (omikuji) and write wishes on a wooden plaque.

Nine-year-old Manao stands with her parents and grandparents outside the Tajihayahime Shrine, Sakai city, Osaka prefecture (Picture: Water Aid)


Water fights are held for the Thingyan Burmese New Year festival in April as the water is believed to wash away the misfortunes and bad luck of the past year in time for the upcoming new year.

Shihab Uddin Ahamad, 52, who lives in Myanmar: ‘New Year is a very special time in Myanmar – a time for families from near and far to gather and celebrate. The water-spraying during the Thingyan festival is believed to wash away misfortunes and the bad luck of the past year.

‘My wish for the new year is that Myanmar and all its people will lead healthy, happy and prosperous lives.’

In Myanmar crowds enjoy a water fight on the Pyay road, Yangon city (Picture: Water Aid)


In Madagascar, as part of a New Year tradition, elders are given the gift of the ‘vody akoho’ (the tail of the chicken which is the tastiest part) by their children or grandchildren as a sign of love and respect. The elder will then give them a blessing for the new year.

Children also go door to door to greet neighbours and wish them a happy New Year, before getting sweets in return.

Juliette, 56, from Manjakandriana, Madagascar, said: ‘We do this tradition as a sign of respect and to show that we love one another. When we do this, I feel loved, cared for, proud and blessed for having all my children and grandchildren around me.

‘I feel special. We have been talking a lot about our village getting running water next year so that is one of my hopes. I also hope that life will be easier next year.’

Juliette, 56, is given a chicken in Ambohimanatrika village, Madagascar (Picture: Water Aid)
Juliette sits among her family as well as children from the village, holding the chicken she was given (Picture: Water Aid)
Children in Manjakandriana hold the sweets they have received from adults in their village as part of the new year tradition (Picture: Water Aid)
Children are given sweets at New Year (Picture: Water Aid)

Timor Leste

Catholics celebrate the new year with a special meal, gathering together to share stories, visiting loved ones or neighbours and praying for new year blessings.

Claudino da Silva Gomes, 36, gathers with his family in Maubara for the celebrations (Picture: Water Aid)

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