Two things that came to mind about New Years tradition or themes came to me in the grocery store today. Not sure if it as a family tradition or more widespread, but my family always had to have sardines on crackers on New Years Eve and then the traditional black eyed peas on New Year Day. Maybe the sardines explain my lack of New Years Eve kisses at midnight!
Accompanying the new start with the new year, there is customarily the singing of the Scot "Auld Lang Syne," a poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 that was set to music. Singing the song on Hagmanay, or New Year's Eve, became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles, and, later, to America with the many British immigrants.
This song, which begins with "For Auld Lang Syne" is loosely translated as "For the sake of old times"; thus, people sing this at midnight as they remember old friends and the past with the appearance of the new year.
The custom that seems to be common among all posters is the opportunity to start fresh. For many New Years is an opportunity to live life better than you have in the past year. For some that means healthier living, better finincial planning, more work on building successful relationships and etc.
Where I grew up, the main theme was driving away the old year and any evil spirits that were associated with it by making noise. I do not know if this was an indigenous custom or if it came from Asia to Micronesia.
At any rate, there was a lot of noise -- fireworks and people going around banging on big metal containers, things like that. I suppose that this is an example of "out with the old, in with the new" like the previous posts have been talking about.
I can only speak to the celebration of New Year's Day in the United States.
The most prevalent theme for welcoming the new year is that of change and renewal. It is a time when people "ring out the old, ring in the new."
The custom of celebrating the new year is the oldest of all holiday traditions, existing even before the time of Christ. It is a holiday that has its beginnings in ancient Babylon, and has been going on for the past 4,000 years. Whereas the new year was celebrated for many years in the spring, a time of new life and rebirth, the Roman calendar was changed so many times, that the new year celebration no longer fell in the spring; so the date was changed to January 1st, in 153 BC.
The earliest sense of beginning anew has not left this happy occasion. It is not unusual for people in the US to use this as a time to "turn over a new leaf," or to change something about their life. Some people adopt a "new year's resolution" that may mean they will quit smoking, go on a diet, or exercise more. It may be a time to end family feuds or patch up broken friendships.
Making a new year's resolution is not unusual, though sticking with it is difficult.
For some people, New Year's is about the party. However, for many people, it is an opportunity to start over and try to get it right this time around.