Hardy Dutch swimmers brave the icy North Sea in Scheveningen, Netherlands, on Jan. 1, 2012. In North America, the Polar Bear club helped popularize the tradition of icy plunges in cold, winter months. Bernarr Macfadden, who founded the Coney Island Polar Bear Club in 1903, believed that "a dip in the ocean during the winter can be a boon to one's stamina, virility and immunity."
Confetti is dropped on revelers at midnight during New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square in New York, on Jan. 1, 2012. The first New Year's Eve ball was dropped in Times Square in 1907. It had 100 25-watt light bulbs, spanned five feet in diameter, weighed 700 pounds and was made of iron and wood.
A woman prays as she holds burning incense on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing, on Jan. 23, 2012. The Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, begins on January 23 and marks the start of the Year of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac.
People raise their hands to receive the first beams of the rising sun during the winter solstice ceremony in Tiahunaco, outside La Paz, on June 21, 2012. The Aymara New Year is a celebration of the winter solstice, and indigenous peoples used the day to ask the gods for a good harvest in the coming season. Bolivian President Evo Morales declared June 21 national holiday in 2009.
Equipped with branches of pine trees and cow bell, some "Silvesterchlaus" (New Years Claus) walk toward a farm house in Urnaesch, Switzerland, to offer their best wishes for the new year, on Jan. 13, 2011. After they sing and dance the Silvesterchlaeuse receive food, hot drinks or money. It is believed that a visit by the Silvesterchlaeuse helps drive away evil spirits.
Revelers take to Princes Street for the fireworks display to celebrate the arrival of the New Year on Jan. 1, 2011 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The traditional New Year's song "Auld Lang Syne" was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and is an ode to old friendships. Groups of friends will often hold hands in a circle while singing, and at the start of the last verse they will crisscross their arms and then rush in towards the middle at the end.
People throw vermillion powder on one another to celebrate the Nepali New Year, also known as "Sindoor Jatra", at Bal Kumari in Thimi, near Kathmandu, on April 14, 2012.
A woman holds an offering of fruits as shamans perform a ritual for good luck for the coming new year in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 29, 2010. In Peru, yellow is considered good luck, and people will often wear yellow underwear on New Year's Eve for luck in the new year. Shamans from around the country attend fairs to perform rituals that include showering subjects with yellow flowers or passing a guinea pig over subjects' bodies.
Rose Parade performers march in the 123rd Annual Rose Parade, on Jan. 2, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Parade began in 1890 as a way to promote Pasadena as the "Mediterranean of the West." The Tournament of Roses association invited friends from the East Coast to play various games in the warm weather. Because of all the fresh flowers in the area even in the winter, the flowers were incorporated into the event and showcased.
A dragon dance is performed amid fireworks during a Lantern Festival celebration in Chongqing, China, on Feb. 6, 2012. The traditional dance of the dragon accompanied by loud drum beats and cymbals is intended to scare away evil spirits in the new year. The celebrations take place over 15 days leading up to the Lunar New Year, which falls on a new moon, and marks the end of the winter season.
An Iranian woman holds a firecracker in Tehran on March 13, 2012 during the Wednesday Fire ritual, or Chaharshanbeh Soori, held on the last Wednesday eve before the Spring holiday of Noruz. The Iranian new year that begins on March 21 coincides with the first day of spring during which locals revive the Zoroastraian celebration of lighting a fire and dancing around the flame.
Noruz, which means "new day," marks the first day of spring and is commonly known as the Persian New Year. It is also celebrated in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Albania, Bahrain, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, as well as among various other Iranian and Turkic peoples in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, northwestern China, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and the Balkans.
Party goers dance in the hot summer sun during the annual New Year's Eve carnival held through the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 31, 2008. The first carnival was held in 2004, inspired by the Rio carnival and is intended to encourage leadership and creative skills among the local communities.
A Thai teenager squirts a foreign tourist with water during the Songkran Festival along the famous tourist area of Khao San Road in Bangkok on April 12, 2012. Songkran is the Thai New Year which starts on April 13. The weather is at its hottest around this time of year in Thailand and people celebrate by splashing water at each other. This originates from the tradition of pouring fragrant water on Buddha images as a cleansing ritual. The collected "blessed" water would then be poured on family members to help bring good luck.
People get hit by firecrackers during the Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival, as part of the Chinese Lantern Festival or "Yuan Xiao Jie," in Tainan County on Feb. 16, 2011. Locals believe bad luck will go away after one is bombed with beehive firecrackers, a tradition that has evolved into a huge tourist attraction. The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year with festivities and celebrations across the island.
Tibetans celebrate Losar, or Tibetan New Year, at a monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal on March 7, 2011. Losar can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet when Tibetans practiced the Bon religion. A spiritual ceremony would be held every winter, whereby people offered incense to appease the local spirits, deities and protectors. Losar usually falls on the same dates as the Chinese New Year and is usually celebrated over 15 days.
Sumo Grand Champion Asashoryu performs "Dohyo-iri" (ring purification ritual) at the Meiji Jingu Shrine on Jan. 6, 2010 in Tokyo, Japan. It is the custom that Sumo Grand Champions celebrate the new year by performing the ritual at the Meiji Jingu Shrine.
An Andean woman reads an egg yolk inside a glass of beer during a ritual of predictions at a fair in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 27, 2011. The New Year's fairs have become a popular destination for those seeking good luck or predictions for the coming new year.
Residents drink vodka during traditional "Koliady" rituals in the village of Pogost, outside of Minsk, Belarus on Jan. 7, 2011. Koliady is an ancient pagan holiday initially celebrated on winter solstice but since appropriated to celebrate Christmas and New Year according to the Julian calendar, and other winter holidays.
Shinto believers pray in a ice-pool to purify their bodies and souls as they display their endurance skills during the New Year's purification ceremony at the Teppozu Irani Shrine in Tokyo, on Jan. 8, 2012.
Andean men participate in a one-on-one fight during the Takanakuy, a traditional festivity at Chumbivilcas province in Cuzco, Peru on Dec. 25, 2011. Takanakuy, which means "when the blood is boiling" in Quechua (the indigenous Peruvian language) is an annual and ancient celebration inherited from the pre-hispanic Chanka culture that gives hundreds of Andean villagers the chance to solve their love, honor and property problems through the force of blows as a way to put differences behind them before the new year.
Hogmanay fireball swingers illuminate the streets of Stonehaven, carrying on the tradition of welcoming the new year on Jan. 1, 2004. Revelers celebrate Hogmanay, the Scottish celebration of New Year's Eve, in the small highland coastal town by swinging baskets of fire above their heads. At the end of the procession, the flaming baskets are thrown into the sea. There are two theories on the symbolism of the fireballs. One is that it originates in pagan ceremonies where the fireballs were created to mimic the sun, so that all things living would have the appropriate amount of sunshine. The second is that the fire was created as a way of purification to destroy demons or corruption in the air.
Runners take part in the 86th Sao Silvestre New Year's Eve road race at the start, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Dec. 31, 2010. About 21,000 runners took part in Brazil's most traditional 15-kilometer street race.
Indian men roll around a temple as they offer traditional Dandajayatra prayers to the god Shiva during a ritual as part of a festival which coincides with the Oriya New Year in Mendhasal, India, on April 13, 2011. The "Danda festival" continues for 13 days. The Oriya New Year is also a celebration of spring. There is not one common New Year's day in Hinduism. Celebrations of the new year vary from region to region.
Orthodox Jews takes part in the Tashlich prayer, a Rosh Hashanah ritual, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in the southern city of Ashdod, Israel, on Sept. 17, 2012. Tashlich is a long-standing Jewish practice performed on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah. The previous year's sins are symbolically cast off by throwing pieces of bread, or a similar food item, into the sea.
Akemi Takanezawa, right, and Sayaka Ikeda, center, wash bills of Japanese yen (10,000 yen and 1,000 yen) with water for purification at Zeniarai-Benten shrine in Kamakura, south of Tokyo, Japan, on Jan. 6, 2012 at the start of the New Year. It is believed that money washed in sacred water at the shrine will increase ones fortune.
Members of a family make the traditional Lunar New Year "banh chung" or rice cakes for sale on the courtyard of their house in a suburb of Hanoi, Vietnam on Feb. 7, 2002. Banh chung is a delicacy made of sticky rice, pork and green peas, all wrapped in "dong" leaves and cooked for more than 10 hours. Food is an important aspect of New Year's traditions for all cultures. Pork and ham is very popular in the Philippines, 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.
People offer prayers at the start of the new business year at Kanda Myojin Shrine, which is known for being frequented by worshippers seeking good luck and prosperous businesses, in Tokyo, on Jan. 4, 2012.
Dolls of Ekekos, known as the god of abundance, are displayed in a market in Lima on Dec. 30, 2009. People annually flock to the traditional markets searching for lucky charms and spiritual services from witch doctors in order to be blessed prior to New Year's Eve. People place minature versions of things they would like on the Ekekos, and then "make him happy" by placing a lit ciagrette in his mouth.
Nihangs or Sikh warriors perform a sword-fight as part of Gatkha, a traditional form of martial arts, during a religious procession ahead of Baisakhi festival in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, on April 11, 2012. Baisakhi is the beginning of the New Year in the Indian state of Punjab and is also a harvest festival.
South Koreans gather around a huge bonfire to celebrate the first full moon of the Lunar New Year in Seoul, on Feb. 6, 2012. Koreans traditionally mark the occasion with burning pine tree believed to fertilize the soil and rid it of unwanted pests, ensuring a prosperous harvest.