New Year's Eve TV: 5 Traditions From Around the World

Mallika Sherawat

From dueling pop groups in Japan to drunken butlers in Germany, international TV audiences have some very unique ways to ring in the new year

While countdowns dominate New Year's Eve television coverage across the globe, many countries have additional, more eccentric traditions. Here's a look at five countries with five very different kinds of broadcasts planned for Dec. 31.


Every New Year’s Eve Germans gather around their TV sets to watch a black-and-white English comedy sketch called Dinner For One. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Dinner for One is the most oft-repeated show in television history, with over 300 airings. This New Year’s Eve, every German regional channel will run the 11-minute skit, many repeating it several times during the day. The plot of the sketch is simple: Miss Sophie, an old aristocrat, is celebrating her 90th birthday with her four closest friends. Sadly, they all died years ago so her butler James steps in to playact each role, imitating her friends’ mannerisms and quaffing toasts for the entire quartet. Each course begins with the signature refrain, which has become a national catchphrase:  James: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” Miss Sophie: “The same procedure as every year, James.” James gets drunker and drunker, sloppily spilling drinks, tripping over the head of a tiger pelt rug and downing the contents of a flower vase. The sketch ends with James’s final “procedure”: carrying Miss Sophie up the stairs to bed.

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Dinner for One stars the late Brit music hall regular Freddie Frinton as James and was originally recorded, in English, for German TV in 1963. A combination of nostalgia and the skit’s drinking game appeal – bottoms up on every “same procedure as every year” – has made it a national treasure. Not in England, thought, where Dinner for One is almost completely unknown.


The highlight of the Bollywood calendar are the New Year's bashes thrown in five-star hotels across Mumbai, with the country’s film stars being paid top dollar to attend and maybe do a little dance. Rumors have already started to circulate that actress Katrina Kaif was offered 40 million Rupees ($800,000) for such a gig this year – though it's not clear whether she or other A-list actresses like Kareena Kapoor will go. For the second rung of Bollywood divas, however, the New Year’s parties are a quick way to make a buck as well as get some free media exposure. One such publicity hound is actress Mallika Sherawat, who is confirmed to perform at a Mumbai hotel for a rumored fee of anything between 5 million and 7.5 million rupees ($92,000 - $141,000). Sherawat created a stir a couple of years ago performing at Mumbai's Marriott Hotel New Year’s party where her skimpy see-through outfit led to a legal suit against her for indecency while news channels had a field day showing excerpts of her performance. “I sure hope I do wear something,” laughed Sherawat when asked about her wardrobe plans this year.


The annual New Year’s Eve Red and White Song Battle (Kohaku Uta Gassen) on public broadcaster NHK is more than an institution in Japan, where it has been broadcast since 1951. The show, which runs to nearly four and a half hours, pits a female Red team of pop and traditional singers against a corresponding male White team. The winning team is chosen through a somewhat mysterious and ever-changing voting system involving TV viewers, the live audience and a panel of celebrity judges.

Although the show no longer commands the 80 percent plus ratings it used to in the 1960s, it remains a huge event for New Year, which is a Christmas-like family gathering in Japan. Applications for the 1,234 pairs of tickets to the live event, to be co-hosted by boy-band Arashi and actress Mao Inoue, totaled 1,264,923 this year. Japan is currently in the grip of a Korean girl-group boom and three K-pop acts will be performing this year. Western artists have been scarce in recent years, with Susan Boyle in 2009 a notable exception; 1990 saw both Paul Simon and Cyndi Lauper make the trip to Tokyo.

The mood of this year’s event is predicted to be more somber than usual, out of respect for the victims of the March disasters. Quite how a four-and-a-half-hour all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza can be toned-down, remains to be seen.

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Following a number of recent scandals that have exposed organized crime’s links with the entertainment business, NHK announced all performers have signed contracts promising they have no links to Japan’s Yakuza mafia.


For Koreans, the holiday season has become first and foremost a special romantic occasion for couples rather than families – and is thus deemed a dreaded time for singles. Television sees a heavy lineup of popular variety shows featuring some sort of matchmaking gig for entertainers, reality stars and even ordinary men and women. This year SBS’ smash hit program Couple, which invites non-celebrities to participate in group activities to find their other half, will host a special episode for 30-something-year-olds wishing to get married. Meanwhile, MBC’s We Got Married, a much-loved reality series in which top stars pretend to be husband and wife for a given season, has been a competitive showcase for creative romantic surprises. Last year, Korean pop stars Nichkhun and Jo Kwon made headlines by teaming up to croon a seasonal duet for their “wives,” singers Ga-in and Victoria, respectively.


In Russia, one of the essential traditions of New Year’s eve, alongside eating Russian salad and drinking “Soviet” champaign, is watching the 1975 TV movie Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom! (The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!), directed by Eldar Ryazanov. Since the film’s premiere, every December 31, at least one TV station has shown this New Year comedy in which the main character gets so drunk that he takes a flight to the wrong city and ends up in an apartment identical to his own, in which a single attractive woman lives. Most people in the former Soviet Union could easily relate to the story, which combines drunken adventures around the New Year holidays with unlikely romance between two strangers.

The tradition turned out to be so strong that allowed producers to cash in on it 30 years later. Four years ago, Russian A-list director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) directed a sequel in 2007, Ironiya Sudby. Prodolzheniye (The Irony of Fate. The Continuation), which predictably became a box office phenomenon, ultimately grossing nearly $50 million. The sequel featured the children of the original movie’s characters and brought to the theaters people who hadn’t gone to the cinema in years. No word yet if a third installment is on the way, but if the popularity continues, it would be a safe bet.