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A 'New Year' arrives, along with a list of traditions

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People carry a man on a stretcher as they take part in a traditional sea bath during New Year's celebrations on Jan. 1, 2011 at Malo-Les-Bains beach in Dunkirk, France.

New Year's Day quickly approaches and with it the pressure to make this coming one the best year ever. We all have different traditions we believe will help us achieve this goal. Some more than others. My family comes from Peru, where there is a long list of essential New Year's customs that are guaranteed to bring you health, wealth, love, prosperity... you name it. This usually begins with the yellow underwear. Yellow is considered a lucky color that symbolizes hope and happiness. It is no coincidence that it is the same color as the Sun. By ringing in the new year while wearing yellow underwear you encourage good luck to come your way. You then proceed to:

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We may have different calendars, customs and beliefs, but most of us mark the arrival of a new year. Take a look at the ways cultures around the world celebrate and bring good luck for the year ahead.

  • Collect 12 pennies (representing each month of the year) from different people, before midnight and place them in a small red bag along with a several grains of rice to ensure that you would have money and food throughout the next year.
  • Eat 12 grapes at the strike of midnight. (This is a tradition that originates in Spain and spread to most of Latin America - along with colonization)
  • Run out at midnight with a packed suitcase and go around the block (after you eat your grapes, of course!). This one is for those wanting to travel in the new year.
  • Throw a pair of old, worn out shoes dramatically out the window as a way of getting rid of the old year.

While everyone has different ways of bringing in good luck, there are also some common themes that run through the various customs. Water is involved in several traditions. This can be attributed to the fact that water is associated with cleansing and rebirth. In Thailand, during the Songkran festival celebrating the New Year, complete strangers splash water on each other throughout the streets. While this is certainly aided by the fact that the Thai New Year takes place during the hottest time of the year, the tradition began with people pouring fragrant water on their Buddha images as a New Year cleansing. This "blessed" water was then gently poured over family members for good fortune.

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Roasted pigs at a store in Manila, Philippines on Dec. 23, 2010. Pork and ham are also a very popular New Year's food in Austria, Germany, and Sweden, among others. The pig is known for rooting forward for food with their snouts, and their feet planted. This is seen as a symbol of moving forward in the new year.

During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, people visit an open body of water to cast away their sins of the past year. Typically, the sins are represented by small pieces of food that are thrown into the water.

One of the most popular water-related traditions is the New Year's plunge into icy water. In New York City's Coney Island, thousands gather on Jan. 1 to run into the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Polar Bear Club's yearly tradition. The same happens all over Europe.

It can be said that most of these traditions ultimately are about getting rid of negativity and starting anew. Hence, the desire to scare away evil spirits through dragons and drum beats (Chinese New Year), dressing up in costumes (Switzerland), or fireballs (Scotland).

To see what others do on New Year's see our slideshow: New Year's traditions around the world.

What New Year's traditions will you be doing this year? Do you think it makes a difference? Leave your comments below.