New Year’s Eve; the one night of the year where peer pressure to party is felt on an almost global scale. It’s around this time that anticipation for impending NYE celebrations begins to peak, but beyond our Australian custom involving champagne bottle-popping and a few pyrotechnical feats, what else are people around the world getting up to? Turns out there are many countries that compliment said partying by indulging in traditions of a quirkier flavour.
#1 What’s eating Spanish grapes?
Spaniards greet the new year with a fistful of grapes – 12 grapes for the 12 months of the year. Known as las doce uvas de la suerte (the twelve grapes of luck), they quickly eat one grape at every strike of the clock at midnight. If they manage to finish their grapes by the last bell toll then they’ll enjoy a prosperous year.
#2 Pants Party
For many Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico, the pair of underpants you’re wearing could bear year-long consequences. Before midnight, many change into specific coloured underwear depending on the area of life in which they’re seeking improvement: red panties ask for love and passion, and yellow duds favour finances. The Spanish grape-eating tradition is observed by many Latin American countries as well, so armed with undies in one hand and fruit in the other, all bases are covered.
#3 Suitcase full of dreams
Many adventurous Latinos from Chile and Colombia to Mexico have their priorities in order. On new year’s day they walk an empty suitcase around the block to ensure that their year ahead is filled with travel.
In a heartwarming nod to feminist values, unmarried women in Belarus play games to see who will be the lucky lady to get married in the next year. One game involves setting a rooster loose among the women to see which lady it prefers. Obviously, no sane rooster would be bothered with such games without an incentive, so the women stand behind piles of corn. The rooster is undoubtedly torn by this sudden choice of bounty, and so it goes that whoever he pecks his way over to first must logically be a top choice partner and therefore first to marry.
#5 Drag and burn
If you happen to find yourself in Ecuador on New Year’s day amid droves of men wearing makeup and colourful wigs, don’t be alarmed: they are the viudas (widows). Some men dress in drag, pretending to be widows because their “husbands” will be burned in a fire that evening (more on that later). They parade around the streets, stopping cars and begging for beer money. The viduas might even bust out a dance to entice coins from the driver, before letting cars pass. But the fun isn’t over yet. While men in drag wander the streets, everyone else is busily making effigies or puppets, known as los años viejos (the old years). The life-size effigies are burned at midnight, representing things no longer needed or liked from the previous year. The puppets are usually made to look like politicians, cartoons or famous celebrities, giving a face to the burning piles of disdain.
#6 You bought it, you break it
Hillbrow residents of Johannesburg’s red light district use the welcoming of the new year to throw out old electrical goods and furniture with reckless abandon from their high rise apartment windows. It’s actually become extremely dangerous for pedestrians and a headache for local police but the ritual is still seen as a cherished tradition for some, freeing them of the old and unnecessary before the new year begins.
#7 Jump around
In Denmark it’s not uncommon for the stylish Scandinavians to get up on chairs at their party, and when it hits midnight, jump off them. As they literally jump into the new year, they’ll also be holding cake, a coin and a drink ensuring them plenty of food, drink and fortune for the year ahead.
#8 White hop
Brazil not only hosts the biggest NYE party in the world (in Rio de Janeiro), but there are a couple of customs that guarantee luck as Brazilians welcome the new year. Revellers spending their night at the beach usually wear white, symbolic of peace and renewal, and some hop three times on one leg so as to start the new year off on the right foot. In Bahia, a custom from the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble sees people worshipping the goddess of the sea, Lemanja. At the stroke of midnight people head to the beach throwing flowers as an offering and making seven wishes while jumping over seven waves, so that Lemanja creates clear and blessed paths for their lives.
#9 Night of the living dead
For many, there is no better way to ring in the new year than with family by their side. In the central Chilean town of Talca, this sentiment is taken a step further to include deceased relatives. Since 1995, thousands of Talca residents gather at 11pm in the municipal cemetery to ring in the new year surrounded by all of their loved ones, living or passed.
#10 Tinkering tin and the same procedure
Who needs a fortuneteller when you have a bucket and a perfectly meltable piece of metal? No one in Germany or Finland on New Year’s Eve, apparently. It has been custom to melt down tin (traditionally lead) and pour the molten metal into a bucket of cold water. Whatever new shape the metal forms (or the resulting shadow it casts) is used to predict your future for the coming year. Perhaps not one for the kids.
There’s also a German tradition of watching the English speaking, black and white British sketch Dinner For One on New Year’s Eve. Recorded in 1963 in a single take, the sketch follows 90-year-old Miss Sophie, who has outlived all her friends. This renders her NYE celebrations a dinner for one, along with her server James. The catchphrase of the night is “same procedure as every year!” and that procedure basically involves drinking with merriment. Not that foreign of an idea at all.
(Lead image: Konrad Summers/Flickr)