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24 hours of New Year’s Eves: How and when people celebrate NYE across the world

24 different time zones means an awful lot of fireworks.

New Year’s Eve is a deceptively short-lived festival. We have hours of build-up, a night of alcoholic merriment that unites the nation, and an arsenal of pyrotechnics that seems to grow bigger every year. The moment itself? Over in a second.

But though this may be true for a town square or front room, we’re just one stop on a grand voyage which spans 24 hours and every corner of the globe.

Here’s a New Year guide to help you along for the ride, from its start in the South Pacific to the fall of the ball in Times Square.

10:00AM – Samoa

Samoan sunrise

Residents of the Pacific island nation of Samoa are the first to welcome 2019 to their shores, and the country quite literally travelled in time to make it so. In 2011, officials decided to move from the Eastern side of the International Date Line to the Western side. This brought the working week in line with Western trading partners Australia and New Zealand, and saw them pivot from last New Year-celebrating nation to first.

A pro tip for the expert reveller: welcome in 2020 in Samoa, then take a plane across the International Date Line to American Samoa and welcome it in again a day later.

12:00 – New Zealand, large parts of Australia, Vanuatu

At 11:00 New Zealand becomes the first of the big dogs to uncork some New Year champagne, and at midday GMT Sydney, Melbourne and Australian capital Canberra join their Antipodean brethren.

The Australian hinterland is so monstrously large that in the West Coast city of Perth the clock doesn’t chime til three hours later.

16:00 – China, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia

Chinese New Year dragon

We’d lay a sizeable bet that every December 31 sees groups of tourists gather in Chinese cities expecting red lanterns and paper dragons, only to realise too late that Chinese New Year is a completely separate event, usually in early February. January 1 is still a national holiday in China but it’s usually spent with family or at company parties.

More interesting are the Chinese time zones, or to be more accurate, time zone. Despite stretching from the central steppes of Asia all the way to the Pacific Ocean, the entire country uses ‘China Standard Time’, which is centred upon the capital Beijing. Residents of Urumqi bring in the New Year at the same time as Shanghai, despite lying nearly 4,000 km to the west.

18:30 – India, Sri Lanka

A map of India

You’re going to have to bear with us here, because Asian time zones are a mathematical minefield. India and Sri Lanka use a half hour increment – ie. compared to the rest of the world they are always 30 minutes off the hour.

This leaves the Indian New Year just 30 minutes ahead of Pakistan, and 30 minutes behind Bangladesh, despite bordering Bangladesh to both the east and the west. And because of China’s unceremonious approach to timekeeping, the whole of India celebrates two and a half hours behind Tibet and Xinjiang – which both lie roughly due North. You could use this as another double New Year’s but, given to visa issues and the small matter of the Himalayas, it might take you longer than that to cross the border.

India isn’t the only country that refuses to settle on the hour – Nepal and parts of Canada are offset from their neighbours by 45 minutes.

23:00 – Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Morocco, Nigeria

Lead pouring with a candle

With 46 countries beginning their Januaries all at once, this is by far the most overcrowded slot for New Year festivities. Many European New Year’s come complete with madcap traditions: In Italy wearing red underwear makes you lucky in love, while eating lentils brings fortune in finance. Germans traditionally engage in ‘lead-pouring‘, to divine portents of the coming year, while in Spain eating 12 grapes on the 12 strokes of midnight will win you a fruitful 2020.

Incidentally, the Spain-Portugal border is another great place to run a two-New-Years strategy. Despite sharing a peninsula, Spain and Portugal maintain a one hour time difference: Enjoy some Spanish fireworks then rush across the border just in time for the Portuguese ones.

00:00 – UK, Ireland, Iceland, Senegal

The moment has arrived: raise a glass, enjoy the fireworks, kiss your partner/feel lonely. GMT highlights include Edinburgh’s world-famous Hogmanay celebrations, and áramótabrennur – giant New Year bonfires which have been held in Icelandic capital Reykjavik for more than two centuries

05:00 – New York, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador

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Five hours later, and New Year has finally crossed the Atlantic, and the restless crowds in Times Square can watch the famous ball make its annual descent. With a packed programme of concerts and club nights, and thousands of merry-makers braving rain, wind and hail, nowhere takes New Year’s Eve quite as seriously as New York.

Further south, Ecuador practices perhaps our favourite New Year custom – men donning their finest dresses to represent the “widows” of the passing year. With 2019 suitably mourned, the men defrock and the family gathers round the fire to burn ‘monigotes’ – papier mache effigies of politicians and public figures.

10:00AM (UK time) tomorrow – Hawaii

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Canada and the USA each have six time zones, so ‘Happy New Year’ is an hourly announcement on North American television throughout the UK’s early morning. Happy new year Chicago is at 06:00; Happy new year Calgary follows at 07:00; then happy new year Los Angeles at 08:00 and happy new year Alaska at 09:00. Hawaii rounds things off at 10:00, and a smattering of Pacific territories follow, until 2020 has enveloped the globe.

At long last the very literal march of time is at an end, and everyone can settle into what we hope will be a peaceful and prosperous 2020.

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