We Americans all pretty much celebrate New Year’s Eve in a similar fashion. Partying, drinking, friends, bars, parades, the ball dropping, singing Auld Lang Syne. It’s pretty standard, but by no means boring.
While that may be how we ring in the New Year, it’s hardly universal. Every country around the world celebrates the new year in their own, unique way. Many of their celebrations make ours look quite bland so it might be time to inject something new into our festivities. Let’s jump around the globe and take a look at a few…
Our southern neighbor has an interesting traditional that involves grapes. On New Year’s Eve, at each of the 12 chimes during the midnight countdown, you eat a grape. This tradition comes from Spain where vineyard owners came up with the scheme to sell more of their grapes, saying that they were the “las doce uvas de la suerte,” the 12 grapes of good luck.
They also decorate their homes with colors that have specific meaning. For instance, the color red hopes for a general improvement in lifestyle and love. Yellow encourages better employment situations. Green signifies improved financial circumstances. Lastly, white decorations encourage improved health.
Continuing through Latin America, Ecuador’s New Year’s Eve calls for a little cross dressing. It began as men dressing as women in the days before New Year’s Eve, begging for money. On the eve, they’d give the money to the widows of the year. Nowadays, they’ve dispensed with the charity and increased the outlandish dress and revelry.
Here they incorporate a unique New Year’s meal and a lot of loud noise. People attend a midnight feast called the Media Noche. The usual dishes served include pancit (for long life) and ham. Lechon—roasted pig—and other barbecued food are big favorites. Interestingly, some avoid serving chicken. The reason: their scratching and pecking for food is unlucky.
Making noise is crucial on this night. Filipinos blow on plastic horns, called torotot, wail on pots and pans, blast music, and set off firecrackers. The idea is that the noises scare away bad luck and evil spirits.
New Year’s Eve in Japan is called Omisoka. In Japanese tradition the most important day of the year is New Year’s Day, making Omisoka the second most important day. At 11:00 PM on this night, people meet for the last time in the old year to have a bowl of toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon.
Why eat this noodle based dishes? Traditionally, Japanese people associate the long noodles with “crossing over from one year to the next.” Toshi-koshi roughly translates as the end of the old year and the entering of the new year, or “year bridging.”
The Germans combine modern customs with their own peculiar traditions. Berlin hosts one of the biggest firework shows in Europe, with the centerpiece being Brandenburg Gate. They also have customary meals and unique dishes like speckdicken, which is similar to a pancake.
But they also have their uniquely German customs. One is Bleigießen—or “pouring lead.” This involves fortunetelling through the shapes made by molten lead dropped into cold water. Other actions meant to bring good luck are to touch a chimney sweep, or have him rub ash on your forehead. Strange, I know.
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