Cultural Themes for Your New Year’s Eve Party

Try These Cultural Themes For Your New Year’s Eve Party

Events have changed in these last two years, and old themes have been reimagined. Your upcoming New Year’s Eve party may be an excellent opportunity to ride this wave of change and do something different for your guests.

New Year’s Eve celebrations are more than just alcohol and fireworks. Many cultures across the world have meaningful NYE traditions that lend themselves easily to other NYE parties. 

The below ideas can be used for any size New Year’s Eve party, whether it’s an intimate gathering of family and friends or a street or neighborhood party. You can take these cultural New Year’s Eve celebrations and tailor them to your guests.

Related: Other Holidays To Celebrate Besides Christmas This Festive Season

Omisoka (Japan)

By mizukoshi_izumi, CC BY 3.0, Link

The Japanese celebration of New Year’s Eve is called, Omisoka which literally translates to “the last great day of the year.” The Japanese also have a series of smaller parties before New Year’s eve called “bonenkai” or forget-the-year parties. They’re all intended to erase the passing year before the big Omisoka celebration. Gifts or “oseibo” are shared between families and friends, and a lot of alcohol is consumed. In fact, it is custom to have “nomihodai” or an open bar at your Omisoka. So, why not have an Omisoka party to celebrate NYE this year?


Omisoka food is not complicated. It is a traditional Japanese dinner of buckwheat noodles, known as “toshikoshi soba,” accompanied by rice cakes and the famous Japanese sweet sake, “otoso,” an excellent substitution for champagne.


The most important activity on Omisoka is the ringing of a bell at midnight to bring in the new year. In Japan, families and friends go to community temples to ring the bells. You could recreate this for your party by having your own bell or presenting each of your guests with their own bell to ring at midnight. 

While fireworks are very popular for NYE entertainment, if you’re concerned about your pets or just looking for a quiet celebration, this Japanese tradition, which is actually called “Joya-no-Kane,” can be great for your party. The bells are rung precisely 108 times, for all the sacred cycles of life. 


The signature Omisako decor are the “kadomatsu” boughs made with bamboo and pine, although plastic versions can also be found. These are placed at the entrance of every home or place of gathering. You can also include “shimenawa,” a Japanese rope believed to be sacred. Keep to the minimalist Japanese aesthetic, and your Omisoka party will be stunning! 

Brazilian Réveillon

Photo by PortoBay Experiences

One of the world’s most famous NYE parties is the Copacabana Beach party, or “Réveillon,” as the Brazilians call it. Réveillon is a massive party, but it does not just end there. It also has elements of spiritual worship to the deity, Lemanjá, who is believed to take care of the ocean. Brazilians offer gifts such as white flowers, candles, necklaces, or soaps to this deity by floating them on the water. You don’t have to take your guests to Brazil to recreate this all-white NYE party. In fact, you don’t even need to be at a beach. You can have your party at a park or a backyard with a pool. Add these Brazilian elements to your NYE party:


The Réveillon menu is centered on foods that Brazilians believe bring luck. These include lentils, rice, grapes, pomegranate seeds, black-eyed peas, and beef, all accompanied by lots of sparkling wine. Poultry is a big no-no as animals that walk backward are seen as unlucky. 


Réveillon usually has an endless show of live deejaying and band performances, so you can also consider these options for your party. Fireworks are also traditional. Réveillon fireworks have lasted for as long as 15 minutes, so definitely don’t hold back with that. A midnight swim is also a great program item – Brazilians believe jumping into the ocean at midnight on NYE brings good luck.


All Réveillon attendees traditionally wear white. Dress code alert: your guests should be in their purest white. Use white tablecloths and white crockery, as well as white flowers in your centerpieces. Fairy lights will also complement a beach set up very nicely. 

Caribbean Junkanoo

Photo by Mathieu Fortin

The Caribbean carnival Junkanoo is another famous affair that makes a great NYE party. The Bahamians enjoy it so much that it is held on Boxing Day and again on New Year’s Eve. During Junkanoo, Bahamian civilians across the 16 islands wear colorful costumes and African masks and take to the streets to celebrate the end of the year. This carnival has its roots in 16th-century slave plantations, when the slaves would celebrate their only two days off in the year with ritual dancing and singing that reminded them of their African origins. Junkanoo offers fun inspiration for a tropical NYE party.


Bahamians love their seafood! Snapper, grouper fillets, bass, or cod, are battered and deep-fried or seasoned and scorched and served with spicy peas and rice. Drinks can be cocktails combining rum, fruit, and coconut liqueur. A classic Bahamian dessert is the baked banana custard drizzled with caramel or topped with whipped cream. 


Junkanoo entertainment includes traditional Bahamian music made with goatskin drums, whistles, cowbells, and brass horns. However, some reggae or calypso tracks will do if you don’t have these traditional instruments.


Vibrancy is key! Incorporate bright colors and feathers and add island elements like conch shells, palm fronds, and white beach sand. Also, bring in as much blue as you can, for example, with your tablecloths, napkins, and dishes.

Scottish Hogmanay

Photo by Lawrence OP

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is called Hogmanay and is easily the most popular holiday in Scotland. This 6-hour street party is attended by more than 75,000 people singing and dancing to Scottish music in Edinburgh. The Torchlight Procession is the highlight of Hogmanay, with people carrying torches or even swinging fireballs over their heads in some parts. Plan your own Hogmanay with these Scottish finishes:


You can serve hearty Scotch pies, Scottish salmon with mashed potatoes, or other hearty vegetables. And fruit cake for dessert. Don’t forget the scotch whisky and ale.


You could hire a fire twirler or dancer to handle the fireball swinging. If you don’t have bagpipes or tin whistles lying around, entertain your guests with Scottish folk music. Or consider punk or alternative rock; think bands like Deacon Blue or even AC/DC, whose founding members were born in Scotland.


If your party is informal, use tartan tablecloths, napkins, or tartan paper plates. You could make your venue look like an old Scottish feasting hall with a long wooden table for everyone to sit at and use metal or wooden utensils. 

Chinese Reunion Dinner

Another famous NYE celebration is the Chinese reunion dinner. The Chinese Lunar New Year will only start on the 1st of February next year, which means that Chinese New Year’s Eve is technically on the 31st of January. However, you can use the Chinese NYE reunion dinner elements for your party on the 31st of December. The Chinese reunion dinner is traditionally held at one’s in-laws but what matters is that all families gather together. So, why not treat your family and friends to this Chinese tradition this year?


The central part of the dinner is the “jiaozi” dumplings filled with a minced stuffing of ground pork, onions, and soy sauce. Chicken, salted fish, and other preserved Chinese food are also served. This is followed by Chinese rice wine, “baijiu,” and other alcoholic spirits. It is also tradition to have the Chinese rice cake “nian gao” for dessert.


The dinner traditionally starts at 17:00 and lasts through midnight. Red envelopes with money and other gifts are handed out. After eating, there are fireworks, and in some cases, the year is rung in with a bell.


The primary color used is red, which symbolizes joy and good fortune. So, you can have red Chinese lanterns around your garden and hang the twin red scrolls or “spring couplets” at your entrance. Other small details you can add are red paper cut-outs, kumquat trees, and flowers such as plum blossoms.

A Classic NYE Party: Timeless Themes

You may just want to give your guests a New Year’s Eve party that will feel familiar to them. A neutral theme can also help you accommodate guests of different cultures so that you don’t seem to be privileging one over the others. These themes have been used without fail by many event planners. Some are cost-effective, while others will need a substantial budget and much planning: 

Decades themed party

Celebrate one decade or a combination and invite your guests to dress in the trends of that time. You can entertain your guests with a game of trivia on the decades and other retro games. This party can be fun yet charmingly sentimental as going back in time makes many of us nostalgic. It’s a great combination of emotions for an NYE party. 

Black tie & Glamour

This theme will never go out of style. You can use bold colors like black and gold or sophisticated pastels like blush, lavender, or peach. Add glamour with sparkling centerpieces, metallic or iridescent balloons, and even a statement wall with a floral backdrop. Your meal will, of course, be a sit-down dinner with at least three courses. Planning this New Year’s Eve party will be no small feat!

A midnight brunch

You can do away with all the formalities and host an NYE brunch for your closest friends. Serve a scrumptious brunch at midnight, including fresh pastries and mimosas. Your entertainment could be karaoke or a movie marathon. This NYE party will be a minimum planning effort but super fun.

Costume or Pyjama party

You can also give your guests another chance to put on a costume if they didn’t get enough of that over Halloween. You can make it specific and choose a particular movie or book, or just make it general, for example, “Superheroes and Villains.” Another option is to invite your guests to come in their pajamas instead and enjoy a cozy NYE indoors.

Whether you decide to go with a cultural theme to surprise your guests or double-down on a more conventional New Year’s Eve party, be sure to have that “Wow!” factor. And add a touch of authenticity. Give yourself enough time to shop for all the decorations and look for recipes or find the right caterer. And be sure to send an invitation that clearly communicates your theme so your guests can dress the part!

When planning a new year’s eve party, ThymeBase can keep you on track.