Random Ephemera

8 Strange New Year's Traditions From Around the World

The new year is rapidly approaching, bringing with it the hopes for prosperity and positive change that seem to be a universal human desire whenever the current calendar turns its final page. People here in America celebrate the new year with a variety of traditions, but folks in other parts of the world have their own customs, many of which are very different from ours. Since America is a nation of immigrants and so many of our holiday traditions have origins in other countries, it's interesting to look at a few of the more colorful ways people living elsewhere welcome in the new year. After all, a few of these may eventually be added to our own lists of New Year's traditions.

8. Burn Effigies.

At midnight on New Year's Eve, people in Ecuador burn effigies representing the old year, or at least the bad stuff from it. These effigies vary from simple scarecrow-type figures to huge and elaborate portrayals of famous pop culture characters, politicians and other individuals associated with the year that just ended. It's a form of symbolic cleansing, but also a lighthearted form of celebration. Before the burning begins, men dressed as the "widows" of the effigies  will roam around begging for money and in mourning for the soon to be dispatched characters.

7. The Color of One's Underwear Is Important.

Throughout Latin America, there are New Year's customs involving a person's choice in underwear. Mexico, Argentina and Peru all have traditions involving the wearing of new undergarments, and there are probably other countries that do, too. It's thought that a person desiring love might wear new red underwear, or if he or she seeks financial gain, green might be chosen, along with other colors depending on what the person desires from the coming new year. Hey, if nothing else, it's a nice excuse to treat yourself to new underwear at the beginning of the year.

6. Make a Lot of Noise to Ward Off Evil Spirits.

In the Philippines, New Year's Eve is a noisy one, as it's a tradition to discharge fireworks, clang pots and pans together, and generally make as much noise as possible. Besides the obvious celebratory nature of such revelry, some people believe that the ruckus scares evil spirits and chases them away, presumably to quieter places preferred by evil beings.

5. Jump Over Seven Waves to Please a Sea Goddess.

In Brazil, many people choose to wear white as a symbol of New Year's tranquility and rebirth, but some folks also head out to the ocean at midnight to jump over seven waves. This tradition honors Lamanjá, the "Mother of Waters" or Goddess of the Sea," a deity with origins in Africa and the Candomblé and Umbanda religions. Lamanjá is a protector of fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks, among other things, and believers throw rice, jewelry and other offerings into the ocean to secure her favor in the new year. Some people also jump over those waves, believing that if they do so, Lamanjá will present new opportunities in their lives.

4. Fireballs! Loads of Fireballs!

New Year's in Scotland is called "Hogmanay," and the Scots take their celebrations very seriously — it's one of their biggest holidays, eclipsing even Christmas, which was not a public celebration until the late 1950s. Hogmanay, on the other hand, was the holiday that most Scots observed instead. Hogmanay has its roots with the Vikings, when Norse invaders observed the winter solstice in late December, and over time other traditions borrowed from events like the Gaelic Samhain celebrations began to blend in, eventually becoming Hogmanay. The New Year's celebration is several days long and encompasses many different traditions, but one of the more colorful — or dangerous, at least — is observed in Stonehaven, a town in Aberdeenshire. The locals create balls from wire, paper and other materials, then set them on fire while swinging them around and walking through the streets.

3. Dance Around in a Bear Costume.

No, this isn't a drunken Halloween celebration gone wrong, or an event at a furry convention. In Romania, there is a old rural tradition that's gaining in popularity, in which people dressed in elaborate bear costumes travel from house to house, dancing as a way to chase away evil spirits on New Year's Eve.

2. Throw Furniture Out the Window.

In parts of Italy on New Year's Eve, revelers will begin to throw pots, pans and old furniture from their windows at midnight. Like many New Year's traditions, this is done as a symbolic way for celebrants to reject the old in favor of the new, and to let go of negativity and make room in their lives for positive changes. Oddly enough, the custom seems to have spread to parts of Johannesburg, South Africa too.

1. Eat 12 Grapes.

Originating in Spain is a tradition that as the bell strikes 12 times to midnight, people should eat a grape each time it rings. This tradition seems to have been adopted widely throughout Mexico, other Latin American countries and even the Philippines — all locations with a large Spanish influence in their cultures. The custom is thought to bring the celebrant prosperity and good fortune in the coming year, and some people believe it also wards off evil spirits. In any case, grapes are yummy, so it seems like a good way to welcome in the new year.

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.