How the New Year is Celebrated around the World

Develop compare and contrast skills while expanding cultural knowledge by looking at how different countries ring in the new year.

By Stef Durr

2013 encompassing a world globe

As the enormous, glowing ball descends on the people of Times Square, and confetti falls thick in New York’s frigid air, how are people in other parts of the world celebrating the coming of a new year? Namely, what are the people of India, China, Japan, and Israel doing? Reserve the computer lab and have your class research the traditions practiced in other countries. Either divide your class into groups, assigning a different country to each group, or have learners gather information independently for one of the four countries. Then, guide your class through the four phases of compare and contrast as defined by ASCD, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

Why Is This Important?

Sometimes you’re lucky: your lesson's content is interesting. Other times, your kids are disengaged daydreamers. Involve them in a discussion that addresses the answer to the question so many are thinking: why are we comparing the celebrations of different countries? This might take some initial prompting, but a lesson with this focus could lead to the following benefits:

  • More knowledge of other cultures, and possibly even more respect for other cultures.
  • The ability to use the Internet to collect valuable information.
  • The opportunity to synthesize information from various sources.
  • Using comparisons to draw thoughtful conclusions (through the questions you pose).
  • Selecting specific evidence to defend their conclusions.

Phase One: Description

Now that the class knows the unit's purpose and objectives, divide them into pairs or groups and have them scour the Internet for information related to their country. While these websites are in no way a complete description of each of the listed countries’ traditions, it should help get you started.

New Year’s in China

New Year’s in India

New Year’s in Japan

Rosh Hashanah

Even when compiling basic information, I always give my pupils a graphic organizer to collect and manage their findings. It focuses their attention and focuses them toward only collecting relevant, valuable information. This columnar Venn diagram provides better organization than its typical, round counterpart. In the first column, pupils write the information they find for their assigned country, and in the third column, they write what they learn from other groups. In the center column, consider selecting the following categories: Official Name, Celebration Date, Reason for Celebration, Traditions Practiced, Symbols, and Food.

Phase Two: Comparison

Divide the class into pairs/groups so they can compare information from different countries. Consider distributing a piece of poster board to help the groups synthesize and categorize their information and the knowledge gleaned from other groups.  

Phase Three: Conclusion

Ah, the most important phase in compare and contrast: forming conclusions. Now that they’ve gathered information, sifted through it, and sorted it, what does it mean? Here’s a list of questions to prompt your learners:

  • Is traditional clothing worn during the celebration?
  • What calendar is used to set the celebration’s date?
  • Does the new year celebration have a religious affiliation?
  • Is the celebration meant for reflecting on one’s past or looking toward the future?
  • Who participates in the celebration? Where do the participants celebrate?
  • Which country’s new year festivities hold the most significance within their national celebrations?

Phase Four: Application

This investigation shouldn’t end with drawing conclusions. Ask your students to produce something that includes what they’ve learned about the countries they have researched and compared. Perhaps you could assign a speech and offer them this question: Are the countries' celebrations more alike or different? Why?

Compare and contrast comes naturally, but we must make it a valuable and fruitful endeavor for our pupils. This skill is the on-ramp to higher-level thinking and analysis skills, which explains why it’s part of the Common Core State Standards initiative. Create opportunities for your learners to build meaning and craft conclusions through their thinking.

Additional Lesson Plans Focusing on Compare and Contrast:

Compare and Contrast

Pupils explore Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s famous expedition into the Louisiana Territory and compare it with a similar trip (Jackson) that took place a century later. Both Lewis and Clark’s expedition and Horatio Jackson’s exploration transformed American life, but how? This culminates with pupils writing a position paper that uses compare and contrast to draw conclusions.

Evaluating Eyewitness Reports

How did the Great Chicago Fire start? Did a cow really tip over a lantern? Learners read and compare different eyewitness accounts in order to piece together a picture of what most likely happened. They use analysis worksheets to perform in-depth studies of each primary source provided.

Recurring Nightmares

Are those who don’t remember the past condemned to repeat it? The class explores documents and articles related to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Iraq Crisis of 2002 and compare the two. Are they more similar or dissimilar? Groups discuss the included questions and collaborate with a second group to conduct a close analysis.