December 31st marks the last day of 2013. The islands of Kiribati and Samoa will be the first to welcome 2014, while Honolulu will be one of the last places. Will you celebrate by watching the ball drop, attending a party or seeing some fireworks (or all of the above!)? Keeping with the style of our Winter Solstice post that detailed a variety of traditions worldwide, here’s a peek at some particularly interesting New Year’s Eve customs outside the US. Want to know about traditions for January 1st? Check back tomorrow!
Albania: Albanians start preparations long before the 31st. The Christmas tree is known as a “New Year’s Tree,” or “New Year’s Pine.” Traditionally, Albanians watch a a lot of comedy shows this night, as the New Year should start with people smiling full of joy.
Argentina: Argentines celebrate New Year’s by swimming in rivers or lakes, or public pools.
Ecuador: Thousands of life-size dummies, called “Old Year” and made to look like politicians and movie characters, represent the misfortunes of the past and are burned in the streets at midnight.
Estonia: Tradition recommends eating seven, nine or twelve times on New Year’s Eve, as these are all lucky numbers in Estonia. For each meal consumed, the person gains the strength of that many men for the following year. However, meals should not be entirely consumed – some food should be left for ancestors’ spirits, who visit the house on New Year’s Eve.
Finland: Molybdomancy is the tradition of telling fortunes of the New Year by melting “tin” (actually lead) in a tiny pan on the stove and then quickly throwing it in a bucket of cold water. The resulting blob of metal is analyzed by interpreting the shadows it casts in candlelight. This is also practiced in Germany.
Germany: An auspicious act is to touch a chimney sweep or have him rub some ash on your forehead for good luck and health. Tiny marzipan pigs are also eaten.
Greece: Children sing New Year’s carols for money in the daytime. At midnight, the family counts down while turning off all the lights and closing their eyes. They then reopen their eyes to, “enter the new year with a new light.”
Italy: Red underwear is traditionally worn, as it also is in Spain. Ancient tradition was to dispose of old or unused items by throwing them out the window. Lentil stew is eaten when the bells toll at midnight, one spoonful per bell. This is supposed to bring good fortune, as the round lentils represent coins.
Japan: On New Year’s Eve people prepare and clean their homes to welcome Toshigami, the New Year’s god. At midnight, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times. The rings represent the 108 elements of bono, the mental states that lead people to unwholesome activities.
Mexico: Mexicans celebrate Vispera de Ano Nuevo with the Spanish tradition of eating a grape during each of the twelve chimes of a clock’s bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one. Home are decorated in colors that represent wishes for the new year. Red encourages improvements in lifestyle and love. Yellow encourages improved employment conditions. Green is for improved finances, and white for improved health. Sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. Whoever receives the slice with the prize is said to have good luck for the New Year. Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad that happened in the past year. Before midnight, this list is thrown in the fire, symbolizing a removal of negative energy.
Serbia: Trees are decorated at New Year’s rather than at Christmas. This is also the night when Santa Claus (Deda Mraz) visits houses and leaves presents under the tree. Santa Claus is also associated with New Year’s Eve in Turkey.
Venezuela: Here traditions recommends yellow, not red, underwear. You should also pull a suitcase around the house if you will travel in January.
Do you have a unique New Year’s Eve tradition not mentioned here? Comment and let us know!