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Arts and culture Updated: 09 Jul 2023

This is how New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world

The new year is a chance to finally fulfil all those resolutions that you did not manage to fulfil the year before. For all of us it is a time to begin from scratch, which is why it is important that we make a good start. For the Spanish this means swallowing down twelve grapes in time with the twelve strokes of midnight, and it is paramount that they are all eaten!  But what about the rest of the world? Every place has its own tradition, but they all coincide that it must be followed in order to get the best out of the coming year.

Americans are the most sentimental in this regard, as their tradition entails kissing somebody at midnight. Just as Spaniards believe that not having their grapes shall deprive them of good luck in general, in the United States not kissing somebody means that you will be blighted by loneliness in the coming year. A study by the Washington Times concludes that two thirds of the population trust that they will be kissing someone at midnight and that only 10% have lost any hope of following tradition. It also mentions that for most people this kiss only lasts for a few seconds, although others believe it must be longer.

Italians prefer to ensure their financial health over their emotional health and do so with a plate of lentils. According to legend, dining lentils on the ‘Notte di Capodanno’ will bring the best in terms of finances in the new year. “The more you eat, the more you will earn” is the belief. This tradition hails from the Romans and the legend tells that lentils were presented as gifts at the start of the year in the hope that they would turn into gold coins.

For Danish dishware, new year’s eve is a farewell, as in Denmark they have the ‘elegant’ custom of breaking the crockery after the dinner of 31 December. In the past, the tradition went even further, with the breaking of dishes at the doorways of good friends and family. Nowadays this tradition is still religiously followed in some areas.

It has always been said that the English are very punctual and, in keeping with this characteristic, they have the New Year’s Eve tradition of the first footing. This consists of doing whatever possible to be the first to arrive at the home of friends and family right after the strokes of midnight. They believe that the first person to arrive shall be the bearer of good luck throughout the year.

The strikes of the clock in Japan are different to those in Spain. The joya no kane tradition consists of up to 108 strikes heard in the Japanese Buddhist temples on New Year’s Eve. What is interesting about the Japanese chimes is their significance: every stroke scares off one of the 108 sins, such as anger, desire or envy, which human beings can conceive and end up committing. Gastronomy also plays an important role for the Japanese on New Year’s Eve, as they believe that by eating toshikoshi-soba the family’s good fortune shall be as long as these Japanese noodles.

In Turkey the tradition is to welcome the new year with a Champagne toast. In addition, as soon as the last stroke is over, they turn on all the taps in the house and let the water run in order to ensure a healthy and wealthy new year.

Latin American Traditions

Using coloured underwear is a new year’s eve tradition in several South American countries. The Argentinians believe that wearing pink underwear attracts love whereas the Brazilians wear white undergarments to frighten off the evil spirits. On the other hand in Mexico they usually wear red underwear, whereas in Colombia, Peru and Venezuela wearing yellow underwear is believed to bring a new year full of money and success.

As they do in Spain, in Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela they eat twelve grapes with the twelve strokes that welcome the coming year. Along with grapes, the Chileans eat lentils at midnight as a way of attracting work and money.

But in Latin America, new year’s eve customs are not restricted to clothing and food. In Chile they sweep the floor of the home outwards to drive out bad energies, and they hug a person of the opposite sex at midnight as a magnet for love. Colombians, Chileans and Venezuelans go round the block carrying an empty suitcase in search of a year filled with travel. They also tend to start the year standing up and with money in their hands to ensure they are blessed with money, luck and health.

In Argentina, as well as white underwear, they have the tradition of having a dip in the sea to present gifts to Yemanyá, the Goddess of Water, as a way of guaranteeing good fortune in the new year.

In some parts of Peru they place a whole egg under the bed and check the shape of the yolk on the morning of the 1st January, from which they interpret what the future has in store.

Several Latin American countries have turned “burning the past year” into a tradition. For instance, in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela they make a ragdoll that represents the year coming to an end and light it up.