(Editor’s Note: This is part one of two describing strange and interesting traditions from around the world.)
As the old year comes to a close, we have a look at some of the most interesting traditions to welcome the new year. While some customs like popping champagne, fireworks and counting down the last few seconds seem universal, many countries have their own unique ways to celebrate. Follow us around the world with these New Year’s Eve traditions, make a wish, and have a happy new year!
12 Grapes of Luck
In Spain and some Latin American countries, one New Year’s tradition is to eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the coming year, to secure prosperity. Sounds easy? Here’s the challenge: you need to eat one grape with each bell strike at midnight. The favored way is to take a bite, then swallow the grape halves whole. A glass of bubbly afterward might help to flush it all down. The tradition dates back to 1909 when vine growers in Alicante came up with this idea in order to sell more grapes after an exceptional harvest.
Wear Colorful Undies
In Latin American countries like Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil, the color of your panties will determine what kind of year you’ll have, so choose carefully! Tradition holds that red will bring love and romance, and yellow leads to wealth and success. White stands for peace and harmony, while green signifies well-being and nature. In Turkey, red panties are also handed out as gifts for good luck and the promise of a fruitful new year.
Who doesn’t want to know what the next year might bring? In Germany, people melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle, then pour the liquid into cold water. The bizarre shapes from the Bleigießen (lead pouring) are supposed to reveal what the year ahead will bring. If the lead forms a ball, luck will roll one’s way, while the shape of a crown means wealth; a cross signifies death and a star will bring happiness.
Break a Plate (or Two)
A Danish New Year’s Eve tradition is to throw plates and dishes against friend’s and neighbor’s front doors. It’s a bit of a popularity contest as the bigger the pile of broken china is the next morning, the more friends and good luck you’ll have in the coming year. In times of apartment and urban living though, it’s a dying tradition, but smashing fun for those who still practice it. Another custom in Denmark is the jumping off chairs at midnight, symbolizing the leap into the New Year when the clock strikes 12.
In Ecuador, people build scarecrow-like dolls of politicians, pop stars, or other notable figures to set them alight. Burning the año viejo (old year) is meant to destroy all the bad things from the last year and cleanse for the new. The scarecrows are made from old clothes stuffed with newspaper or sawdust and a mask is fitted at the end. The Ecuadorian tradition possibly originated in Guayaquil in 1895 when a yellow fever epidemic hit the town, and coffins packed with clothes of the deceased were burnt for purification.
Round Food, Round Clothes, Round Everything
In the Philipines, the start of the new year is all about the money. The locals believe that surrounding themselves with round things (to represent coins) will bring money or fortune. As a result, clothes with polka dots are worn and round food is eaten. To really push Fortuna, coins are kept in pockets and constantly jangled, believed to keep the money flowing.
(Special thanks to Fodor’s Travel.)