WaterAid reveals the surprising New Year traditions celebrated around the world

Posted by
Anna France Williams
2 January 2020
Scotland and Northern Ireland, Madagascar, Timor-Leste, Tanzania, Cambodia, Japan, Myanmar, Uganda, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Water, Fundraising
WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

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As the new year begins, WaterAid has released a fascinating new photo gallery revealing the New Year traditions celebrated by different communities around the world. 

From water fights and bathing rituals to giving chickens as a gift and using cow dung to polish the floor, the unique images reveal how people celebrate in ten countries from Cambodia to the UK and Madagascar to Japan, in the hope of bringing good health, happiness and prosperity for the New Year.

WaterAid created the seasonal photo series as part of its Access Denied campaign, which aims to raise £2 million to help poor communities around the world build a better future with clean water and decent toilets. The collection highlights that while many people welcome in the New Year with wishes for a good year ahead, it is hard for the millions who are denied access to clean water to reach their full potential in the coming years.

Included in the gallery are traditions such as ‘solom body akoho’ from Madagascar, where elders are ‘honoured’ with the gift of a chicken’s tail (the tastiest part) and children are given sweets to wish them a happy new year. The photos come from Manjakandriana district where WaterAid is working this winter to bring clean water and decent sanitation, helping people have a healthy year ahead and for years to come.

The gallery also features a community in Uganda practising ‘Ngasuban’, where a black soil concoction is smeared on people’s bodies for a good harvest. In Ethiopia cow dung is used to polish people’s floors and walls as part of a house cleaning tradition to banish dust, illness and fleas. WaterAid is helping transform health, education and livelihoods in this Ethiopian community by working to provide clean water and sanitation facilities.

In Cambodia, a holy bathing ritual is meant to wash away bad deeds and bring blessings for the coming year and in Japan, families visit a shrine where they pray for happiness and make wishes for a good fortune.

Shihab Uddin Ahamad, 52, lives in Myanmar where they celebrate the tradition of water throwing, ‘Thingyan’, in April:

“New Year is a very special time in Myanmar - a time for families from near and far to gather and celebrate. The water-spraying during the Thingyan festival is believed to wash away misfortunes and the bad luck of the past year. My wish for the new year is that Myanmar and all its people will lead healthy, happy and prosperous lives.”

Ewan Robertson, 58, from Scotland, will be doing ‘first footing’, which involves presenting gifts to neighbours, such as coal, whisky or shortbread, to represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, long-life, and good cheer. He said:

‘The first-foot is a chance to get together to look forward to all the opportunities the year ahead could bring, to celebrate how lucky we are to be warm, well and loved. It is a time to remember that we live in an amazing country, that we have the opportunities to help others and to look after each other, our families and our friends around the world and to use our gifts and talents to make the world a better place.’

Juliette, 56, from Manjakandriana, Madagascar, is looking forward to being honoured with the tastiest part of the chicken, as well as the changes clean water and decent sanitation will bring:

“We do this tradition as a sign of respect and to show that we love one another. When we do this, I feel loved, cared for, proud and blessed for having all my children and grandchildren around me. I feel special. We have been talking a lot about our village getting running water next year so that is one of my hopes. I also hope that life will be easier next year.”

One in ten people around the world don’t have water close to home and one in four are without a decent toilet. A staggering 800 children die every single day due to diseases related to dirty water, and many more are frequently sick. Women and girls spend hours each day collecting water, leaving little time for school or work.

This Winter, WaterAid is working towards improving access to clean water and decent sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities, helping more people truly celebrate this New Year.

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid said:

“The New Year is a great time for celebration, and around the world, people carry out traditions in the hope of bringing good luck for the year ahead. For the millions of people with no clean water or decent sanitation, dreams of a healthy, prosperous year ahead are at risk as they are denied an equal chance to be healthy, educated and financially secure. 
“This New Year is a key moment as it marks a decade until the end of the Sustainable Development Goals, by which time world leaders have committed to ensuring universal access to clean water and decent toilets. WaterAid is dedicated to working towards a world where everyone has these basic human rights, helping build a brighter future for communities everywhere.” 

To support WaterAid’s Access Denied campaign and help unlock the potential of communities for years to come, visit: https://www.wateraid.org/uk/access-denied-appeal

Read more about the traditions: 



Download photos: https://wateraid.assetbank-server.com/assetbank-wateraid/images/assetbox/74b646c5-3bde-4290-ac3f-12375c5ee9d4/assetbox.html

Photos include traditions from the following countries: Scotland, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Japan, Uganda, Madagascar, Pakistan, Timor-Leste and Tanzania.

For more information, please contact:

In London: Anna France-Williams, Senior Media Officer, [email protected], +44 (0) 207 793 5048 or Laura Crowley, PR Manager [email protected] or +44 (0) 207 793 4965

In Stockholm: Magdalena Olsson, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 33 or
+46 (0)73 661 93 31, or Petter Gustafsson, Communications Officer, on [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 21 or
+46 (0)72 858 58 51

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected].


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org