Unusual New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world

Around the world traditions change, but hopes for happiness and prosperity are similar

Midnight Toast - Photo: BlueEyedA73 Flickr Commons
Midnight Toast - Photo: BlueEyedA73 Flickr Commons

WASHINGTON DC, December 31, 2014 – The coming of a new year is often accompanied by a great deal of custom and superstition.  Even though different cultures celebrate the ending of one year and beginning of a new one in different ways, celebrations are almost always tied to tradition and the hope of having better luck, more money, more love, or more happiness in the coming year.  Here is a list of some of the most unusual:

11. The color of your underwear- Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico

In many Latin American countries, it is considered lucky to wear yellow underwear at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.  It is unclear where or how this tradition originated, but wearing yellow underwear is said to bring happiness and good luck in the year to come.  Some people wear it inside out and change it after midnight.  Others say that it brings even more luck if the underwear is received as a gift.

In Mexico it is considered good luck to wear colorful underwear as well.  For those who are seeking luck in their love life, Mexicans suggest wearing red underwear at the stroke of midnight.  If you are just seeking regular luck or luck in all your endeavors, Mexicans suggest yellow underwear as well.

10.  Leaping off chairs and smashing dishes on neighbor’s door– Denmark

Some Danes celebrate New Year’s by leaping off chairs at midnight, literally “jumping into the new year.”  Jumping off furniture is believed to bring good luck in the year to come and chase away bad luck.

In another unusual New Year’s ritual, some Danes also smash plates against their friends’ and neighbors’ front door at the stroke of midnight.  Breaking plates is meant to symbolize good luck.

In a kind of neighborhood popularity contest, the family with the most broken china piled on their front door can boast having the most friends.

9.  Banging bread on the walls  – Ireland

Many cultures believe that making a lot of noise at the stroke of midnight scares away evil spirits and bad luck.  An unusual way to ring in the New Year is the Irish tradition of banging Christmas bread on the walls and doors of the family house at midnight.  The banging is said to frighten away bad spirits and bring good luck into the house.  The bread is said to bring abundance and ensure that the households has plenty of bread and food during the coming year.

8. Circles and all things round- Philippines

In the Philippines, circles are invoked in clothes and food during New Year’s celebrations.  Circles are meant to represent the roundness of coins, wealth, and prosperity.  People wear clothing with circular patters and polka dots at the stroke of midnight to bring affluence into their lives in the year to come.  Special circular foods are also prepared for New Year’s celebrations, and many walk around their house at the stroke of midnight.

Coins are jingled and strewn around the house as everyone makes a lot of noise to scare away evil spirits.  Finally, many turn on all of their house lights to signify a bright new year.

7.  “Reading” the lead –Germany Austria

Much like reading the future in tealeaves or cigarette ashes, Germans and Austrians try to divine their future for the new year by pouring molten lead into a bowl of water.  The lead is melted in a spoon held over a flame.  As the it cools in the water, it is said that the figure that forms will predict what will come in the new year.  For example, a bee would predict marriage, while a ball would signify luck rolling your way.  There is a great list of meanings on Mrshea.com.

6.  Mistletoe under pillow- Ireland

Mistletoe is used after the Christmas holiday in another great Irish tradition.  According to custom, an unmarried woman puts a bit of mistletoe under her pillow before going to bed on New Year’s Eve.

This was said to bring true love and marriage in the new year.  Some also believe that sleeping with mistletoe under your pillow on New Year’s Eve helps to get rid of bad luck.

5.  A suitcase around the block- Mexico, Colombia

Hungry for a little adventure? In Colombia, Mexico, and other Latin American countries, many believe that if they carry a suitcase around the block at the stroke of midnight, they will travel and have adventures during the next year.  This is hilarious to see.  Some families do it together, and it is also popular with lovers and newlyweds.

Fortunately, the suitcases do not need to be packed and you can get away with racing around the block with empty luggage in tow.

4.  Games of skill to find a mate- Belarus

Unmarried women in Belarus participate in several games during New Year’s Eve to predict which one will get married first and who will marry during the new year.  For example, some women hide different items around their houses while the other participants search.

The woman who finds a ring will marry a handsome man; the woman who finds bread will marry a rich man.

In another game, piles of corn are placed in front of each unmarried woman.  A rooster is brought in and released.  The first woman approached by the rooster will be the first to marry in the new year.

3. “First footing- Northern England, Ireland, Scotland

According to the tradition of “first footing,” the first person to cross a family’s threshold in the new year determines the family’s luck for the year to come.  If a tall, dark and handsome man walks through the door, the family will have luck throughout the new year; in many places, if a red-haired woman or girl enter first the family will have grief to look forward to.

To bring good luck through first footing in Worcestershire, the first caroler is stopped and led through the house.  While a family member can be the first-foot, they must be out of the house at the stroke of midnight.

2. Vasilopita- Greece

Vasilópita is a Greek cake made on New Year’s Eve to bless the household and bring luck in the new year.  It is associated with the St. Basil’s day (January 1).  The cake is baked with a coin or other small object in the dough.  After cutting the sign of the cross on the center of the cake with a knife, it is then sliced and distributed among family members and friends at midnight.

The cake is distributed according to age, the oldest first.  The family member who finds the coin in their slice is predicted to have luck throughout the coming year.

1. Waltzing in Austria

Austrians waltz into the New Year.  In Austria, it has become a tradition that all radio and television stations operated by ORF (“Austrian Broadcasting”) air the sound of the bells at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna striking midnight.

The bells are immediately followed by “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II.  Austrians at parties, in their homes, and on the streets welcome the new year with a collective waltz.

No matter how you ring it in, Happy New Year!

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