(Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts on strange and interesting New Year’s traditions from around the world.)
Eating grapes, wearing polka dots, or burning scarecrows might be weird New Year’s Eve traditions to some, but centuries-old customs to others.
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!
In Scottish folklore, the “first-foot,” also known as quaaltagh or qualtagh, is the first person crossing the threshold after midnight. A tall, dark-haired male with gifts like coins, coal, bread, salt, and a “wee dram” of whiskey, is thought to bring the best luck for the house. The tradition probably dates back to the Viking days when big, blond strangers (commonly armed with axes and swords) at the door meant trouble, and in some places, first footing by a fair-haired male is still regarded as unlucky.
“Out with the old” is the motto in Naples, where people toss everything from toasters to fridges off their balconies. Getting rid of old possessions symbolizes a fresh start in the new year. To prevent serious injuries, most locals stick to small and soft objects for their throwing tradition, though it’s still a good idea to watch your head should you travel to Naples (or Johannesburg, South Africa, where this custom is also practiced).
Romania is a country steeped in tradition. Especially in rural areas, New Year’s Eve highlights include mask dances and ceremonies about death and rebirth. Dancers dress up in furs and wooden masks depicting goats, horses, or bears, then dance from house to house to ward off evil spirits. The dance of the bear is the most popular. According to pre-Christian folklore, if a bear enters somebody’s house, it brings prosperity, health, and good fortune.
Venice is a romantic place any time of the year but on New Year’s Eve in Piazza San Marco, tens of thousands of locals and tourists gather for fireworks, a light show (which sees “hearts” raining down), and “a kiss in Venice.” The evening is all about love and your loved ones, so celebrate with a proper smooch and welcome the new year with happiness in your heart.
With less tradition but more high-tech, for the fifth year running the people of downtown Boise will welcome the new year by dropping a giant spud from the sky. More than 40,000 spectators turn up to see the internally lit, 400-pound “GlowTato.” Other New Year’s Eve drop-sites in the US include Brasstown, N.C. (a possum), Bethlehem, Penn. (Peep – a 200-pound local marshmallow candy) and Port Clinton, Ohio (a giant fish called Wylie the Walleye).
At midnight, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells 108 times to dispell the 108 evil passions all human beings have, according to Buddhism. Japanese believe that joyanokane, the ringing of the bells, will cleanse them from their sins of the previous year. Traditionally, 107 bells are rung on the last day of the year and the 108th in the new year. Many people eat buckwheat noodles called toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve to symbolize the wish for a long life.
(Special thanks to Fodor’s Travel.)