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New Year Webquest

This New Year webquest by Gabrielle Jones includes activities designed to inform students about the history of New Year celebrations and the traditions which are practised today in a variety of cultures.

Note: The teacher’s notes for this webquest can be found at the bottom of the page by clicking the button marked “Teacher’s Notes”. We have also included a link to a student-facing page which does not have any links to the answers. You’ll find it by clicking the button marked “Student’s Page” at the bottom of this page. We suggest that you send students the link to the student page to prevent them from finding the answers too easily!


New Year is an exciting time and many cultures celebrate it in a special way. This may include special foods and drinks, parties, religious festivals and other traditions. Answer these questions in pairs or small groups:

  1. How is New Year celebrated in your country?

  2. Do you know of any similarities or differences in New Year celebrations in other countries?

  3. How do you and your family celebrate New Year?

Activity 1: The history of New Year celebrations

Visit and read the sections titled ‘Early New Year’s Celebrations’ and ‘January 1 becomes New Year’s day’. Look for the answers to these questions:

  1. When were the earliest New Year celebrations and where did they take place?

  2. What name was given to the religious festivity, and where did the name come from?

  3. How long did the original celebration last?

  4. When people began to develop their own calendars, to what events did they tie the beginning of a new year?

  5. What event marked the beginning of the New Year in Egypt?

  6. When was the city of Rome established?

  7. Who included the first two months of the year to the calendar, and what were the names of the first two months?

  8. Who introduced January 1 as the start of the New Year?

  9. What changes did Christian leaders make in the middle ages?

  10. When was January 1 reintroduced as the beginning of the calendar year?

When you’ve finished, discuss what you found out with your partner.


Discuss one other significant festival in your country – do you know how long it has been celebrated, and why it became important?

Activity 2: New Year’s Traditions

Now go to and read the final section of the page titled ‘New Year’s Traditions’. Answer the following questions and then compare your answers with your partner.

  1. What do Spanish people eat 12 of at midnight on New Year’s Eve and what do they symbolize?

  2. Which countries eat legumes and what do they represent?

  3. What do pigs represent in some cultures and where is pork eaten?

  4. Which countries eat ring-shaped cakes and why?

  5. What is hidden inside the rice pudding eaten in Sweden and Norway at New Year? What will happen to the person who finds it?

  6. Which people first made New Year’s resolutions?

  7. What did they promise to do?

  8. What’s the most famous symbol of the beginning of the New Year in America?

  9. How long has the event taken place?

  10. What alternative objects are dropped in other American cities?

Activity 3: New Year celebrations around the world

New Year is celebrated on different dates in different places, and often involves very different traditions. In this activity you and a partner will find out all about two countries and their New Year celebrations.

Student 1 – Scottish New Year

Before you look at the weblink, decide whether the following statements are true or false:

  1. ‘Hogmanay’ means the first day of the year.

  2. Scottish people used to celebrate Hogmanay more than Christmas.

  3. Strangers are not allowed inside people’s houses during Hogmanay.

  4. It is considered very unlucky to enter a household without any gifts.

  5. A lump of coal is a traditional gift.

Now visit to check your answers.

Student 2 – Jewish New Year

Before you look at the weblink, decide whether the following statements are true or false:

  1. Jewish New Year is a celebration of the creation of the world.

  2. The celebration lasts a whole week.

  3. Jews believe that God will decide what the next year will be like for someone.

  4. A special song called the ‘Shofar’ is sung in the synagogue.

  5. A round loaf is eaten to symbolize the circle of life.

Compare your answers with your partner. Then together, copy the table below and fill it in using the information on the websites:

Scottish New Year

Jewish New YearName of celebrationCustomsFood eaten

Activity 4: Quiz: International New Year’s Eve customs

Use the following website to access this quiz based on New Year’s Eve customs around the world. In pairs, discuss each question and decide which option you think is correct. When you have finished, you can check your answers on the screen.

Post-quiz discussion:

How many of the customs are also practised in your own country?

Activity 5: Round-up task

Imagine that you have friends from another country coming to celebrate New Year with you and your family. In pairs, plan the evening, considering the following points:

  1. What kind of food are you going to serve?

  2. Which local traditions are you going to show them?

  3. Will you visit any special people or places?

  4. What are you going to do at midnight?

  5. Will you make any resolutions?

When you have finished, compare the plans you have made with another pair.

Optional activity

Make your own list of New Year’s resolutions. Compare your list to your classmates to see if any are similar.

We wish you a happy New Year!


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