It’s almost over, a year like none other thus far. And while it’s challenged us all in so many ways, it’s also helped many of us see the good things around us that we can be thankful for—even if we did have to look really hard at times.
This year, before we’re all busy eating black-eyed peas, singing Auld Lang Syne, watching fireworks explode, making resolutions most of us will never keep and kissing at midnight, we thought it would be fun to look at some of the ways other people celebrate. Here are five New Year’s traditions from around the world.
Shattering dishes is a good luck tradition practiced by many European cultures, but the Danes, especially, are known for their enthusiastic approach to starting the New Year with a smash. For weeks leading up to the New Year, Danish porcelain makers deliver their factory seconds to towns throughout the land. Locals stock up and then hurl dishes at the doors of their friends and loved ones at midnight on January 1. A pile of jagged plates and busted bowls is a sure sign you’re loved by many and sure to have a lucky New Year.
No one knows exactly how this tradition started in Denmark, though it may be a carry-over from any number of other similar ancient traditions practiced throughout Europe. In some cultures, smashing vessels was a way to commemorate the dead. In others, the noise was thought to ward off evil spirits or express abundance—because we have oh so many plates! Some have even suggested that potters, seeking some form of job security, encouraged villagers to break their wares, only to return later to purchase more.
Throughout cities and towns in Ecuador at midnight of the New Year, streets glow with colorful life-size rag dolls called monigote set ablaze. These figures, often wearing masks that represent hated public figures or even beloved cartoon characters, symbolize the old year. As the flames of the monigotes rise, families and friends rejoice, hugging each other and dancing. Some, in a nod to ancient ancestral practices, even jump over the flames 12 times as the monigotes begin to crumble to the ground.
Versions of New Year’s effigy burning take place in several South American countries, including Venezuela and Peru. In Ecuador, it’s believed by many that the tradition started in 1895 after a yellow fever epidemic swept through the port city of Guayaquil. Families packed coffins with the clothes of the deceased and set them on fire as a symbol of purification and new beginnings.
The Scottish version of the New Year, known as Hogmany, includes a tradition known as first footing, a centuries-old ritual still practiced by many a Highlander. To ensure a New Year’s good luck in first footing, the first foot in one’s house after midnight on January 1 should be that of a dark-haired male. He should have on him pieces of coal, salt, black bun, shortbread and a bit of whiskey.
The origins of first footing are murky, but many believe it harkens back to the days of the Viking invasions, when an axe-wielding blonde man at your door didn’t bode well for a happy New Year.
Just before midnight on December 31 each year, Spaniards gather in their homes and at town and city squares to take part in the 12 Grapes of Luck, a tradition that’s been taking place for well over a century. When the clock strikes 12, participants eat one grape representing luck for each month of the New Year, for each strike of the clock. That’s a considerable number of grapes to gulp down in a mere 12 seconds, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Spaniard willing to tempt fate by not trying.
Like some other traditions, the history of the 12 Grapes of Luck is a bit in question, too, though most sources agree that it gained popularity in Madrid in 1909 when Spanish grape growers led a campaign to sell off a huge harvest that year. The tradition is also practiced in Portugal, the Philippines, parts of Latin America and in some Latin American communities in the U.S.
Take heed if you’re in southern parts of the Country of Love on New Year’s Eve. Italians have a long-standing tradition there of tossing old items out of their windows and off balconies at midnight—a symbolic gesture of letting go of the past.
Many, in the interest of passersby, stick to soft items such as clothing or stuffed animals. But it’s not uncommon for some—most likely wearing red underwear for luck in the New Year—to lob pots, pans, toasters, TVs and even furniture through a window onto the streets below.
In contrast to the midnight purge, many take great care to make sure nothing leaves the house the following day—no bills, no trash, not even a tear.
From all of us here at Infinite Energy, have a safe and happy New Year.