10 of the weirdest New Year’s traditions from around the world

By Harriet Piercy

Updated Dec 8, 2022 at 10:48 AM

Reading time: 5 minutes

It’s almost 2023, and you know what that means. Be it a dry Christmas, an embarrassing Spotify Wrapped, or a failure in securing a partner for the cuffing season, it’s that time of the year when we all collectively chant and manifest the affirmation: “What happens in 2022, stays in 2022.”

For some, New Year’s Eve doesn’t mean more than ticking another night off their calendars. However, others need an extra push to remind themselves about the clean slate that the time brings—along with the opportunity to turn over a new leaf promising a healthier and more productive life. From wearing colourful underwear to smashing plates on your neighbour’s door, here are some of the weirdest New Year’s traditions that take place around the world to reign in the ‘next chapter’.

1. Italy: toss furniture out the window

In some parts of Italy, such as Naples (or Napoli), Italians really take the ‘new year, new me’ approach very seriously. Following the motto of ‘out with the old’, the annual tradition is to throw away old or unwanted furniture—including toasters and refrigerators—from balconies to symbolise a fresh start for the year ahead.

Word of caution: let’s hope the locals stick to smaller and lighter objects. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to watch your head in case you’re planning to travel to Naples (or Johannesburg and South Africa, where this custom is also practised).

2. Scotland: first-footing

Scotland has the tradition of something called a first-footing (‘quaaltagh’ or ‘qualtagh’), which believes the first foot (a person) that crosses the threshold after midnight on New Year’s Eve will bring the best luck for the house.

In many areas, the first foot should bestow symbolic gifts such as coal, coins, bread, salt, or whisky. Generally, the tradition requires the first foot to be a tall, dark-haired male who is not already in the house when midnight strikes. I wouldn’t object to a tall, dark-haired man walking through my front door purely for good luck, that’s for sure.

3. Germany: pocketed carp scales

In a bid to usher in new beginnings, people in Germany traditionally enjoy a meal of Silvesterkarpfen, which translates to ‘New Year’s carp’. The fish can either be steamed, fried, or smoked. Given how carps are quite expensive and hard to find, it has hence become a superstitious belief to pluck a scale from the fish and keep it in your wallet for the entire year—with the hopes of it bringing abundance and money. Stanky, if you ask me.

On a side note, people in the country also melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle and pour the liquid into cold water. Dubbed Bleigießen, or ‘lead pouring’, the bizarre shapes that are formed by the liquid are supposed to reveal what the new year has in store for you.

For instance, if the lead forms a ball, it means that luck will roll your way. While the shape of a crown means wealth, a cross signifies death and a star will bring happiness.

4. Philippines: round food, round clothes, round everything

In the Philippines, the new year is all about money, honey! With hopes of bringing prosperity and wealth for the year to come—just like the Germans—Filipinos believe that, by surrounding themselves with round things (derived from the shape of coins), they will ultimately entice more money into their lives.

So, expect a lot of polka-dot clothing and round-shaped food being passed around this time of the year. To really cement their wishes for good fortune, people in the country also carry coins in their pockets and constantly jangle them. This is believed to keep the money flowing.

5. Japan: 108 rings

With a less spherical context in mind, Japanese new year (or ‘Oshogatsu’) is welcomed at midnight with 108 bells being rung in Buddhist temples all over the country in order to banish the 108 worldly desires that humans have.

These desires are believed to cause pain and suffering to the human heart, and the ringing of bells (called ‘Joya no Kane’) is believed to cleanse our sins from the previous year. Traditionally, 107 bells are rung on the last day of the year and the 108th strike is carried out during New Year’s Eve. People in the country also eat buckwheat noodles (called ‘toshikoshi soba’) at this time to symbolise their hopes for a long life.

6. Latin America: colourful underwear

In Latin American countries, especially Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil, your year ahead is determined by the colour of your undergarments on New Year’s Eve. Yes, you read that right.

Traditionally, red undies will bring love and romance, yellow leads to wealth and success, white stands for peace and harmony, and green signifies well-being and nature. In Turkey, red undergarments are also handed out as gifts for good luck and the promise of a fruitful new year. Now my question is, does it still count if I layer them all up for the night?

7. Ecuador: burning scarecrows

In Ecuador, locals build scarecrow dolls of people—including pop stars, politicians, and other notable figures—using old clothes stuffed with newspaper or sawdust. The figures are then adorned with a mask and bonfired up at midnight on New Year’s Eve. This essentially symbolises the cleansing of any ill fortune that has happened in the previous year.

The tradition, called ‘año viejo’ (old year), can hold extra cleansing credit for those who jump over the flames that their scarecrows burn in for a sum total of 12 times, representing each month of the year.

8. Denmark: breaking plates

Danish people carry the tradition of smashing plates and dishes against the doors of their neighbours, friends, and family to wish them good luck for the year ahead. Do you love someone and want to wish them well? Hurl a plate at their apartment door as hard as you can! Makes sense, right?

All year round, unused plates are saved up for 31 December and it is believed that the bigger the pile of broken plates, the more friends and luck you’ll have in the coming year. Another custom in Denmark witnesses people jumping off chairs at midnight, symbolising the literal leap into the new year when the clock strikes 12.

9. Spain: eat 12 grapes

In Spain, if you eat 12 grapes (known as ‘las doce uvas de la suerte’ or the twelve grapes of luck) at every strike starting 12 seconds before midnight, you will be bestowed with good luck and wealth for the entire year to come—if you finish them in time, that is. Here, the favoured way is to take a bite, then swallow the two grape halves whole.

The taste of the grape, be it sweet or sour, also determines the type of prosperity waiting for you in the new year. Sounds easy enough, right? But I can assure you that it is anything but. Heck, you can wish a romantic New Year’s Eve snog goodbye too. I’m talking drool, everywhere.

10. Finland: cast tin

In Finland, with every New Year’s Eve comes fortune telling. Around this time of the year, you would traditionally be given a small piece of tin that is shaped like a horse shoe—the symbol of good luck in many places of the world. The miniature horse shoe is then melted to form a liquid and quickly tossed into a bucket of cold water (similar to the German tradition of melting lead in a spoon) which immediately hardens it into an irregular shape. They are later examined and interpreted to predict the events to come in the next year. If the cast breaks into pieces, well… I don’t need to tell you what that means.

So, what are you waiting for? Now that you’ve completed your crash course in the numerous weird and wonderful New Year’s traditions around the world, why don’t you try your own hand at a few of them? Or you can go ahead and showcase your wealth of fresh knowledge at that house party you’re invited to. The choice is yours, and the future is too.

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