Quick! Grab an empty backpack and go run around your neighborhood. That’s what you need to do to ensure a new year full of exciting trips and travels. If you want to get across the pond, you just have to jump over a puddle on Jan. 1 – at least, that’s according to custom in Colombia.
Sitting in a cafe in Bogota earlier this month, Passion Passport team member Kyle Peters found an article detailing a few of the quirky ways that Colombians put the past behind them and welcome the new year. We sat there for awhile, laughing as we imagined ourselves joining in, while also developing a deep respect for the importance that Colombians put on the possibilities a new year presents.
In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Colombians often gift each other a wheat sheath, which means the recipient will always have food on their table and money in the bank. As the clock strikes midnight, some Colombians will burn an effigy to “Ano Viejo,” a.k.a. the old year, in an attempt to say goodbye to any of the previous year’s bad memories. They also try to stuff 12 grapes into their mouths, one for each month of the new year, and believe that all singles should be standing between two members of the opposite sex at midnight. Giving each a hug will help you find love in the new year. If you’re hoping for a year full of happiness and prosperity, make sure you’re wearing yellow underwear and have a coin in your shoe to start the year.
In the following days, they’ll drop handfuls of dry lentils into each other’s pockets to bring prosperity and abundant wealth in the new year. They’ll run around the block with those empty suitcases and backpacks.
Reading the article left us wondering how other cultures ring in the new year, and when we had time to kill at the airport later that day we started Googling around. We found a few common themes across the continents, with doors and flying objects playing a prime role in ringing in the new year. Speaking to animals and burning effigies also seem popular – and there are more object-related superstitions that we can count.
The colored underwear trick is trusted throughout South America (wear red to find love, gold for wealth, white for peace). In Ecuador they burn paper-filled scarecrows and photographs from the previous year in order to bring good fortune, while in Panama they burn effigies of famous people. Peruvians might have the toughest tradition: they fist fight in order to settle their differences and start the year fresh. Chilean families honor the dead by spending the night in a cemetery. Brazilians prefer to eat their lentils.
In Europe, watch out for flying objects. The Irish toss loaves of bread at their walls to chase evil spirits. The Scottish and English believe that the first person to enter a home in a new year should carry a gift for good luck, while the Danish are slightly less generous: They toss plates at the doors of friends and family on Dec. 31, all in good fun. The person with the most broken dishes on his doorstep is said to be the most popular. They also stand on chairs and literally jump into the new year. The Welsh also focus on the door – at midnight, they open and quickly close the back door of a house, to shut out the previous year. On the twelfth click of the clock, they reopen it, welcoming in the new year.
The Swiss end the year by dropping ice cream on the ground, while Austrians prefer eating peppermint ice cream. Revelers in Finland and Germany drop molten lead into buckets of water and attempt to interpret the shape that forms within. Round shapes represent good luck, hearts represent marriage to come, an anchor means you need help and a cross predicts your demise.
The Spanish share the Colombian grape tradition, stuffing their mouths at midnight; in Romania they toss coins into rivers for luck and attempt to communicate with their cows (something Belgium farmers try, too). Bolivians are less likely to toss their coins – instead, they bake them into sweets. Whoever finds a coin will have a good year. The French treat Jan. 1 as one of the few days to overindulge – they start the year with a full stack of pancakes. Still, it’s unlikely they’re eating as much as those in Estonia, who consume seven meals on Jan. 1. That sounds much more enjoyable than the way Siberians welcome the year, by jumping into frozen lakes while carrying tree trunks.
Asian countries have their own set of quirky traditions. In the Philippines, everything should be round as you ring in the new year – eat off round plates, wear polka dots – to represent round coins. The Japanese will ring a bell 108 times, in line with the Buddhist belief that this brings cleanliness. And they’ll be smiling right at midnight, in order to bring good luck.
In Thailand, friends douse each other with buckets of water and then cover each other in gray talc. The Chinese paint their doors red for good fortune. They also hide their knives, because they believe that cutting yourself on the last day of the year would cut your entire family’s luck for the coming year.
American traditions are hardly as colorful as those found around the world – but still they persist. In the South, expect to eat black-eyed peas. In Puerto Rico, they’ll be tossing buckets of water out their windows in hopes of driving away evil spirits. South Africans are also keen to toss something out the window – but they prefer furniture to water.
Have you spent New Year’s Eve abroad? Do you know of any ways to ensure a prosperous new year? This list is hardly exhaustive – we know there are many more traditions celebrated on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Tell us about them in the comments!