As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I was quite familiar with what I thought was the standard of the New Year’s traditions – the ball drop. Every year, I would try to stay as far away from Times Square as possible, so as to keep my distance from the touristy crowds. However, while I was in Mexico for the weekend, I came to learn about an entirely different breed of traditions to ring in the New Year.
Here are some of Mexico’s New Year’s traditions and practices, as well as some more from other countries:
- In Mexico, as well as in Spain and some other Spanish-speaking countries, it is common to eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes midnight, making sure to eat each grape as a wish is made for the New Year. A similar interpretation says that eating the 12 grapes at midnight helps bring good luck for each of the upcoming 12 months.
- Mexicans sometimes believe that wearing red undergarments will bring them prosperity in their love life for their upcoming year. Also, donning yellow clothes on New Year’s supposedly brings good luck financially, as the color is symbolic of gold. White clothes is a call for a general kind of good luck, and good fortune spiritually. Green clothing asks for good health.
- My favorite one: In Mexico, I have heard that people wishing for great travel in the coming year take a suitcase and drag it around the block one time. I may be circling the block until February to ensure that my travels are plentiful!
- Mexicans throw shit: Throwing a cup of water out the front door means that less tears will fall in the coming year. Throwing change on the sidewalk will bring good luck financially; if you don’t think it works, you didn’t pick your change back up!
- In the Netherlands, amid the fireworks and firearms being shot into the sky as the New Year arrives, locals sometimes like to take their Christmas trees and drag them outside to start a bonfire with. The authorities don’t like it, but many continue to do it to “get rid of the old before ringing in the new”.
- Americans like to drop things: Most people are familiar with the Times Square Ball Drop, but all around the United States, small towns have come up with their own creative ideas of things to drop. In Port Clinton, Ohio, the town likes to drop an 18ft walleye fish, made of fiberglass and named Wylie. Lebanon, PA is home to Weaver’s Bologna company, and since 1885, the town rings in the New Year by dropping a 12 ft long, 150 lb bologna. Easton, MD residents celebrate both New Year’s and their state’s famous blue crabs by dropping a papier-mâché crab at midnight; they also have one three hours earlier for the family, apparently because at 9PM EST it is midnight in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and Maryland is in the mid-Atlantic.
- In Brazil‘s Ipanema beach region, pushing a boat off from shore with lit candles on board is a popular way to ring in the New Year. If currents carry the boat out to sea, the wishes come true, as long as you didn’t wish for the boat to return.
- In Ireland, the Irish bang bread against the wall. Why? Hammering loaves of bread on the wall will make sure that food is plentiful for the next year, as well as driving out evil spirits, a two-fer.
- In Japan, laughing at the stroke of midnight brings good luck, though it may have to be forced. Another of the Japanese New Year’s traditions is for temple bells close out the year, and then comes the joyano-kane (night watch bell), a series of 108 peals that free the faithful from the 108 “earthly desires” lambasted in the Buddhist canon.
- Finland: one of the longtime New Year’s traditions predicts events in the coming year; each person casts molten tin into a tub of water, and then interprets the shape the metal takes after hardening. A heart shape means love in the New Year, a pig shape may signify plenty of food, and a boat- or plane-shaped form could be interpreted to be great travels (how many years until you create an airplane-shaped piece of tin by pouring molten metal into water? Travel would never happen!).
- Estonia try to eat seven meals on New Year’s Day, ensuring plenty of food in the coming year. When the men do this, they will supposedly have the strength of 7 men in the New Year. (More Estonian facts this way)
- Nearby my home in Brooklyn, NY, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club goes for a dip at around 1pm local time. The water reaches as low as 0.5°C (33°F), and the windchill usually makes it 10 times worse. But these guys, many of them from Eastern Europe, do this all winter long; actually, they go neck-deep from October to April. Why, you ask? No hope of some kind of luck in the New Year; no, these guys do it because they enjoy the cold water.
- One of Scotland‘s New Year’s traditions, called Hogmanay, has the Scottish practice “first-footing,” where the first person to cross the threshold of another’s home sets the tone and type of luck to be rewarded for the rest of the year. Tall, dark men are usually preferred as the “first-foot”, though probably not strangers…
- In the Philippines, they wish to be surrounded by circular objects, to bring good financial fortune in the upcoming year. Since these round objects represent coins, polka-dotted outfits are often worn, and round fruits are put out for consumption.
- In Denmark, residents hope to wake up on New Year’s to find that their home has been bombarded with ceramic projectiles; Danes go to each other’s houses and throw plates at the front doors of their friends’ homes. The larger the mess you have to clean up in the morning means that you have more friends, a weird parallel relationship. Another tradition is to jump off of a chair at midnight, to “jump” into the New Year.
- In Belarus, unmarried women play different games to wish for a husband that year. There is one game involving a chicken, where a chicken is placed in the center of a group of single women; whoever the chicken runs towards first will be getting married in the New Year. Another game involves a married woman hiding things around her house for her unmarried friends to find; the woman who finds the loaf of bread will marry a rich husband; the one who finds a ring will marry a handsome husband.
Got any other New Year’s traditions? Add them in the comments below!
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