New Year’s Eve: a time of reflection and anticipation; a time to celebrate the year’s triumphs and to shake off the unexpected disappointments. For most of us, it’s a time to resolve to be better, to do more, and to make changes. After which, traditionally, we flock to rooftop bars and town squares, bubbly in hand, confetti and poppers in our pockets, ready to welcome the New Year.
Across the world, however, people have different ways of greeting the New Year. Here are a few weird New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world.
Spain – Good Luck Grapes. It’s almost midnight in Spain. In any city, boisterous crowds of friends, family, and strangers decked out in hats and masks and armed with noisemakers converge on the city’s main plaza or square ready to ring in the New Year.
If you look closely, you’ll notice something else in people’s hands–grapes. As the synchronized clock strikes at midnight and disperses over the din, the merriment seems to dissipate for a moment. With each of the 12 strikes of the clock, thousands of daring souls attempt the “Eating 12 Grapes New Year’s” tradition.
As the tradition – which dates back to 1909 – goes, if you manage to eat one grape at a time for each strike of the clock–in time with the clock–then you will have a year of good luck and prosperity.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Spain for this New Year’s Eve tradition, make your way to the Puerta del Sol Square in the capital, Madrid, where the tradition is especially significant.
Colombia – Travel Around The Block. As the clock inches towards midnight in Colombia, family and friends gather at home to enjoy a homemade feast and lots of Aguadiente–a Colombian national liqueur. The guests may be wearing colorful undies tonight as one of many New Year’s traditions that Colombians recognise.
Another tradition that stood out for me as an avid traveler is the suitcase stroll. Colombian tradition says that if you stroll around the block with your suitcase when the clock strikes, you are guaranteed a year filled with travel adventures (don’t worry, there’s also a ‘fitness-challenged’ clause of just going on a walkabout around the house).
Of course, you might need the stroll anyway, to walk off the big scrumptious meal and abundant Aguadiente you had before midnight.
Philippines – Round and Round We Go. In the Philippines, New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest celebrated holidays. Family and friends come together at midnight to ring in the New Year. If you take a closer look at the guests you’ll notice a recurring theme in their outfits: polka dots—and sometimes, lots of them.
In Philippine culture, the circular shape symbolises coins or money and is thought to signify prosperity. Glancing at the dinner table you will spot 12 fruits, one for each month of the year and all of them round in shape. Some people will even keep coins in their pockets. Filipinos keep it loud and bright with music, lights, and fireworks to nullify misfortune in the new year.
Scotland – First Foot Forward. The New Year’s Eve celebration in Scotland, where family and friends get together and party while exchanging gifts, is known as Hogmanay, started after the ban on celebrating Christmas was lifted in the 1950s. It’s believed, however, that many of the Hogmanay celebrations date back to the early 8th and 9th centuries during the Vikings’ invasion.
The traditional celebration includes cleaning out the house and clearing out all debts before the “midnight bells” sound, followed by the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” immediately after midnight. An essential part of the gathering is to warmly welcome friends (and the occasional stranger) into your home after midnight. To secure good luck for the house in the upcoming year, “first footing” or the first foot in the house after midnight should be a dark male carrying pieces of coal, a shortbread, salt, a black bun, and some whisky.
Japan – When the Bells Toll. New Year’s Eve is an important holiday for families in Japan to spend time together reflecting on the past year’s events and mapping out future dreams. At the stroke of midnight, all over Japan, Buddhist temple bells will toll exactly 108 times. The chimes on this occasion, known as “Joya no Kane,” represent negative sentiments being dispelled for the new year. The family can then enjoy another tradition, soba, a year-end noodle dish with friends.
Traditions around the world that may seem weird for some are, for others, staples of prosperity, happiness, and good luck in the uncertainty of a new year. While we may fault traditions as being superstitious, we cannot fault the desire for good will and good fortune. So this New Year’s Eve why don’t you include one of these traditions in your celebration, for “Auld Lang Syne”.