The Ball Drop, Old Lang’s Ayn and determined resolutions – New Year’s Eve is surrounded by tradition, superstition and expectation. As we don our party clothes and pop open the champagne we think about what the night will bring: Who will we kiss at midnight? Will we even make it to midnight? Will we actually keep our new year’s resolution this time? Every year the 31st is the same no matter where you are in the world – in principle that is. The actual rituals of how we hope to encourage a better year are bizarrely unique to each culture.
The importance of underwear features heavily in many countries’ celebrations. The Italians and Spanish believe wearing red briefs on the night of the 31st brings good luck and in Venezuela this tradition is thought to bring love. Venezuelans who want happiness in the new year, however, wear yellow undies.
Colour is seen as important beyond undergarments. Brazilians traditionally wear white to their New Years’ Eve parties to bring good luck. Mexican families decorate their homes in colours that represent wishes for the next year: red is for a general improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow encourages better employment conditions, green for enhanced financial circumstances, and white for improved health. In the Philippines, colourful clothing is worn to show enthusiasm for the coming year. Many also wear clothes with circular patterns such as polkadots to signify the belief that circles attract money and fortune.
Grapes play a significant role too and not just in wine form. In Spain people eat a grape for each of the twelve chimes of the clock’s bell during the midnight countdown. A tradition that originates from 1909 when the grape growers of Alicante thought it would be a good way to cut down on the large number of surplus grapes they had that year. Mexico also places importance upon grapes, making a wish with each one they eat on the countdown.
Out of the Hispanic countries Ecuador has by far the oddest tradition on New Year’s Eve. As well as the normal family events, meals and parties, it is tradition for men to dress as women representing the “widow” of the year that has passed. The main event takes place at midnight where fireworks are lit and thousands of life-size dummies, representing misfortunes of the past year, are burned in the streets.
As expected, many traditions focus heavily upon bringing luck for the following year. Apart from the underwear, Venezuelans who want money must have a bill of high value when toasting and those who want to travel must go outside while carrying luggage. As well as eating grapes, Mexicans bake sweet bread with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient of the slice with the coin or charm is believed to be blessed with good luck in the new year.
In Estonia people believe that they should eat seven, nine, or twelve times on New Year’s Eve as these are considered lucky numbers. It is thought that for each meal consumed the person gains the strength of that many men for the following year. Luckily they aren’t supposed to finish each meal as some has to be left behind for ancestors and spirits who visit the house on the 31st.
A Finnish New Year’s tradition is to tell the fortunes of people’s new years by melting lead in a tiny pan and throwing it quickly in a bucket of cold water. The resulting blob of metal is analysed by interpreting the shadows it casts by candlelight.
So why not add a little cultural diversity to your New Year’s celebrations this year – don some colourful undies, buy a fridge-full of grapes and get metal melting…