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

By Harriet Piercy

Dec 31, 2020

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Don’t let 2020 put you off feeling the usual lust for life for the new year, it still is a new year after all. New years don’t really mean more than simply ticking another day off a calendar, but some of us need an extra push to remind ourselves that goals are there to be reached. We like the idea of a fresh plate—so sue us!. Whatever way you look at a new year, it’s a holiday nonetheless. Here are some of the weirdest traditions that take place around the world to reign in the ‘next chapter’.

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’ to the letter, the tradition is to throw away old or unwanted furniture from balconies to symbolise a fresh start for the year ahead. A word of caution: let’s hope the locals stick to smaller, lighter objects.

Scotland: first-foot

Scotland has the tradition of something called a first-footing (‘quaaltagh’ or ‘qualtagh’), which stands for the luck of the first foot (person) that crosses the threshold of a household after midnight on New Year’s Eve. In many areas, the first foot should bring a symbolic gift such as coal, coins 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. Wouldn’t object to a tall dark-haired man walking through my front door, that’s for sure.

Germany: pocketed carp scales

A carp is a fish, just to get that out there. People in Germany traditionally enjoy a meal of Silvesterkarpfen, translated in english as ‘New Year’s carp’. The fish can be cooked in any preference; steamed, fried or smoked, you get the gist. The carp fish is quite expensive and hard to find, and because of this it has become a superstitious tradition 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.

Philippines: round things

In the Philippines, the new year is all about the money, honey. With, like the Germans, hopes to bring prosperity and wealth for the year to come, Filipinos believe that by surrounding themselves with round things (derived from the shape of coins), they will entice more money into their lives! Expect a lot of polka dot clothing, actual coins and whichever  round things you can think of to be dotted about.

Japan: rings

With a less round context in mind, Japanese new year (or ‘Oshogatsu’) is welcomed at midnight with 108 bells being rung in Buddhist Temples all over Japan to banish the 108 worldly desires that all humans have. The bells (called ‘Joya no Kane’) that are rung are believed to cleanse humans of their sins from the previous year. The final 108th strike carries the meaning of letting go of those worries being thought of in the 107 bells prior. What’s that saying, the truth always rings through? Anyway, I wish them well, and possibly some ear muffs.

Latin America: colourful underwear

In Latin American countries, especially Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil, your year ahead is determined by the colour of your undergarments. Among a few of the colour codes are red, which will bring love, yellow for wealth and white for peace. What will you desire? I personally want it all, does it still count if I layer up?

Ecuador: burning scarecrows

Scarecrows built to resemble people, like pop stars, politicians or other notable figures are bonfired up at midnight of New Year’s Eve in Ecuador. They are stuffed with newspaper or sawdust and adorned with a mask, and hold a symbolic cleansing from any ill-fortune that has happened in the previous year. This tradition, called ‘año viejo’ (old year) can hold extra cleansing credit for those that jump the flames that their scarecrows burn in 12 times, representing each month of the year.

Denmark: it’s all about plates

The Danes see the tradition of smashing plates against the doors of neighbours to wish them good luck for the next year, as well as friends and family. Love someone? Hurl a plate at their home entrances as hard as you can! Makes sense, right? All year round, unused plates are saved for the 31 December, and it is believed that the bigger the pile of broken plates, the more friends and good luck they’ll have in the coming year. All I’m thinking about is the people that live in the suburbs, poor souls might not have a neighbour for miles!

Spain: eat grapes

Eat 12 grapes (‘Las doce uvas de la suerte’ or the twelve grapes of luck) at every strike starting 12 seconds before midnight, and you will be lucky and prosperous for the whole of the year to come—if you finish them in time, that is. The taste of the grape, sweet or sour, also determines the prosperity to come. Sounds easy enough, but I can assure you that it is absolutely not. You can wish a romantic New Year’s Eve snog goodbye too. I’m talking drool, everywhere.

Finland: cast tin

In Finland, New Year’s Eve also takes part in fortune telling. It is tradition to be given a small piece of tin that is shaped like a horseshoe (the symbol of good luck in many places of the world). The miniature horseshoe is then melted to liquid and quickly tossed into a bucket of cold water, which immediately hardens it into a more or less irregular shape as you can imagine, but the shapes are then examined and interpreted to predict the events to come in the next year. If the cast breaks down to pieces, well… I don’t need to tell you what that means.

Whatever you’re doing for this new year, which is bound to be a contrast to what we have known the event to be in the past, why not try one or two out for the sake of it?