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First of all, let me say that the North American tradition of kissing the person in closest proximity to you at midnight is totally weird. It’s kind of gross when you really think about it, and the whole concept inevitably puts a lot of pressure on everyone in a social situation without a significant other.
As the clock is about to strike midnight, you end up doing one of the following:
- Ducking into the bathroom, only to emerge seconds later after the liplocking has ended but before people stop screaming “Happy New Year!”
- Evaluating the situation: Am I around any platonically kissable friends? Is there a cute girl/guy I’d like to make a move on?
- Passing out on the couch clutching a wine bottle and a tub of ice cream after drunkenly yelling “Happy New Year!” to the television screen playing the Times Square broadcast because you just didn’t want to be seen in public.
Maybe that last one was just me. 2010 was a bad year…
There are some traditions that are stranger than our belief that kissing someone at midnight starts the year on a positive note. What’s interesting is that they all generally involve some sort of happiness, blessings, love, luck, or prosperity. Maybe if I do all of them, 2014 will be awesome. No doubt it will be better than 2010.
Traditionally, Armenians conduct a Ritual of Fire where all troubles related to the previous year are symbolically burnt.
Everyone wants to know who will be getting married first in the New Year, so they ask a rooster. The game involves placing piles of corn in front of all the single women and then releasing a rooster. Whichever woman the bird eats from first will apparently be the first to marry — because if a rooster wants you then any sensible man should too…
In Bolivia, the colour of your underwear on New Year’s Day brings you luck in different areas of your life. Most commonly, people will buy yellow undies and change into them right after the clock strikes midnight to bring a year full of money. Red underpants are supposed to bring love, because nothing says amor like clean boxers.
The most obvious custom is wearing a completely white outfit to symbolize peace and renewal, but there’s another tradition stemming from the Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomblé that originated from slaves in Bahia.
After the clock strikes midnight, people head to the sea and jump over seven waves. This is so that Iemanjá, goddess of the sea, will create paths in their lives.
Prepare yourself to hang out with the dead. In the city of Talca, people visit cemeteries and ring in the New Year with the spirits of their family members who have passed away. What better way to be included in family festivities for eternity?
I think every Matador reader should take on this tradition: People wishing for a travel-filled year carry an empty suitcase around the block on New Year’s Day.
On New Year’s eve, it’s traditional to eat lentils to bring prosperity, and to avoid poultry — or else your luck will fly away.
Don’t be surprised if on New Year’s Day you have a pile of broken glass on your doorstep. In fact, you should be concerned if you don’t. In Denmark, throwing plates and glass at a door is a symbol of affection — the more shards on your porch, the more loyal your friends are.
If you’re going to be in Ecuador on the 31st, bring some pictures of things you don’t want in the New Year, because you’re going to burn them. Think of it like breaking up with the previous year and opening yourself up to all of the wonderful possibilities of the new.
Estonians traditionally would eat anywhere between seven and twelve meals on New Year’s Day. Seven, nine, and twelve are lucky numbers in Estonia, and it was believed that the more meals one ate, the more abundant food would be during the upcoming year. It’s also said that every meal increases a man’s strength for the year, but I get the feeling that has to do more with an increase in weight.
Since 1972, Germans have been getting together with their family and watching the British program “Dinner for One” on New Year’s Eve. In the show, an Englishwoman, Miss Sophie, is celebrating her birthday and invites all her friends over for dinner — except at 90 years old she’s outlived them all. The catchphrase of the show is, “Same procedure as every year!” because Miss Sophie and her butler James just get wasted together and make jokes all night.
I asked a few German friends and they have no idea why this is a custom, but the show is broadcast on 15 television stations and the phrase “Same procedure as every year! “ has made it into everyday parlance.
Because roundness signifies prosperity for the New Year, anything round becomes all the rage. Filipinos will display round fruits on their tables prior to the day, and on New Year’s people wear polka-dotted clothing and fill their pockets with round coins.
New Year’s Eve in South African towns is a dangerous day to be outdoors. Falling televisions, beds, and phones threaten to crush people walking in the streets. There’s an age-old tradition of ridding oneself of unwanted household items by chucking them out the window. How else would you make space for all of your new Christmas presents?
If you’re good at that camp game Chubby Bunny — where you stuff as many marshmallows as you can in your mouth and try to say “chubby bunny” clearly — then you’ll enjoy this Spanish New Year’s tradition. As the clock begins to strike midnight, the Spanish attempt to stuff 12 grapes into their mouths before the clock rings 12 times. Each grape is meant to represent a month of good luck for the upcoming year.
The Thai New Year is celebrated between the 13th and 15th of April and is called Songkran. In order to celebrate, people throw water on others and smear beige-colored talc on random people. Throwing water originated as a way of paying respect, and the talc is meant as a blessing for the New Year. It’s a messy one, that’s for sure.