How Do People Celebrate New Year's Eve in Africa?

Aerial shot of fireworks over Cape Town, South Africa

Jian Yi Song / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Wherever the Gregorian calendar is used, New Year's Eve falls on December 31. This includes the majority of African countries, and the beginning of the new year is celebrated across the continent in much the same way that it is in North America: with fireworks, celebrations, and countdowns to midnight. In fact, you will find New Year's Eve parties in some form or another in most major African cities, and plenty of smaller ones too.

Famous New Year's Parties

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is a fantastic place to celebrate New Year’s Eve, with countless parties hosted all over the city. However, if you’re looking for a Times Square ball drop-style extravaganza, make your way to the V&A Waterfront. Every year, this scenic pedestrianized hub is home to the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in South Africa, complete with a parade and a magnificent fireworks display. You can walk from one bar to the next, listening to live music and watching street performances along the way. On January 2, the Cape Town Street Parade (also known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar, or Second New Year) sees thousands of colorfully dressed minstrels take to the streets in celebration.

Lagos, Nigeria

In Nigeria, those in search of big-city glitz and glamor will find it in Lagos’ affluent Victoria Island neighborhood. Known for its expatriate community and an abundance of trendy clubs and 5-star hotels, you’re spoiled for choice in terms of over-the-top New Year’s Eve parties. In particular, Quilox nightclub and Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel are known for their festivities.

Kilifi, Kenya

House, alternative, and reggae music festival Kilifi New Year takes place in the coastal town of Kilifi, located in between Mombasa and Malindi. Lasting from December 30 to January 2, it’s held on a 20-acre plot of land beneath 1,000-year-old baobab trees and features DJ sets, live music, organic food and drink stalls, and a water park. The burning of a giant sculpture welcomes in the new year and symbolizes new beginnings and the hope for a bright future.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the Vic Falls Carnival is a three-day festival featuring Africa’s biggest names in music. Expect firebreathers, traditional dancing, and the Carnival Train, which takes you to a secret rave in the bush. While you're in the area, why not get your new year off to an adventurous start with a whitewater rafting trip, a swim in the Devil's Pool, or a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge?

Alternative Ways to Celebrate

If raucous parties are not your scene, consider escaping the crowds with an al fresco celebration in one of Africa’s breathtaking nature areas. In the far south of the continent, adventurous revelers take a nighttime hike up Lion’s Head mountain to watch the V&A Waterfront fireworks from high above the city. The panoramic views of Cape Town’s lights disappearing into the inky blackness of Table Bay are guaranteed to kick your new year off to a memorable start.

At the other end of Africa, Moroccan tour operators offer New Year’s excursions into the Sahara Desert. They usually take place over two or three days and involve a camel trek through breathtaking dunes, culminating in a celebration of traditional Berber music, food, and dancing beneath the stars. 

New Year in Africa’s Muslim Countries

Muslim countries across Africa use the Islamic calendar to determine religious festivals and periods of fasting. This includes the Islamic New Year, known as Al-Hijra. Al-Hijra is named after Prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina to find a place to practice his newly founded religion in peace. It takes place at the beginning of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The date of the Islamic New Year is determined according to lunar cycles and changes every year in relation to the Gregorian calendar. It is a time of self-reflection for devout Muslims and many communities observe a period of fasting. 

Because most Islamic nations use the Gregorian calendar for official purposes, January 1 is nevertheless recognized as a public holiday in many Muslim countries (including Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Nigeria) and revelers will still be able to attend typical New Year’s Eve parties on December 31. Because alcohol is only served in non-Muslim establishments, big hotels like the Sheraton Tunis Hotel in Tunis and the Fairmont Royal Palm in Marrakesh are your best bet for a Western-style shindig complete with live entertainment and fireworks. 

New Year in Ethiopia & Egypt

Ethiopia exclusively uses the Coptic calendar, which celebrates the first day of the new year on September 11 (except for years preceding a Gregorian leap year, when it falls on September 12). The Coptic New Year celebration is known as Enkutatash and lasts for three days during which Ethiopians take part in church services, singing, processions, and feasting. On their version of New Year’s Eve, families traditionally burn torches of dry wood in front of their houses and usher in the new year with hymns. If you're in Addis Ababa, Kiddus Raguel Church is known for its colorful Enkutatash services; but the most spectacular celebrations take place in the city of Gondar.

Although September 11 is celebrated as a public holiday in Ethiopia instead of January 1, big hotels in major cities like Addis will still host conventional New Year’s Eve parties on December 31. Egypt uses the Gregorian calendar as its civil calendar, and the majority of its population follow the Islamic calendar for religious purposes. However, Egyptian Coptic Christians also celebrate the first day of their new year on September 11 with a feast called Nayrouz. Coincidentally, Islamic New Year also fell on September 11 in 2018. 

This article was updated by Jessica Macdonald on November 14 2019.

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