BY ESTELLA SHARDLOW
Potatoes, underpants and polka dots are just a few of the unusual customs that occur across the globe, as revelers say farewell to the past year and usher in the new.
Lentils and brightly colored underpants – the key ingredients for any decent shindig, right? Well, Brazilians believe their smalls must be the right shade on New Year’s to bring good fortune their way (red if they are looking for love, yellow to bring wealth). Legumes also signify prosperity, so bean-based soup and rice dishes are likely to grace the party buffet in several South American countries.
Jumping off chairs at midnight is the customary way of banishing bad spirits here, giving a new meaning to the moniker “Leap Year.” And don’t be perturbed if you spot heaps of broken dishes on people’s doorsteps – they’re left as a mark of friendship, with Danes saving old dishes year-round for the occasion, so most popular households will have a sizeable heap of smashed china outside. As for a classic New Year’s Eve menu, this includes a dish of boiled cod or saddle of pork followed by marzipan ring cake called kransekage.
Circular shapes, representing coins, are thought to symbolize prosperity for the coming year, so you will find many a Filipino partygoer wearing polka dots and decking the dining table with round fruits. Families gather for Media Noche, the midnight meal, and will often leave doors and windows open to let the New Year in.
It’s customary to gobble down 12 grapes at midnight, one on each stroke of the clock, to bring good luck for every month of the coming year (many will be washing them down with a bottle of cava, of course). Some say the practice was originated in 1909 by a group of grape growers wanting to deal with a large production surplus. As in many countries, there’s also a cacophony of bells, trumpets and horns – most famously at Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid – since loud noises are thought to drive away bad spirits.
The night gets lit up by more than fireworks in this part of Latin America; effigies of popular celebrities and politicians, named muñecos, are traditionally burned on bonfires. It’s all about immolating the old year and scaring off lingering evil spirits.
“First Footing” dictates that the first visitor (traditionally a dark-haired man) to the home should cross the threshold bearing gifts linked to good fortune: a loaf of bread for the kitchen and a lump of coal to light the fire. Other interpretations involve them pouring a drink for the head of the household or bringing in mistletoe. And whether you’re in Scotland for Hogmanay or south o’ the border, everyone will be joining hands to belt out “Auld Lang Syne.”
Ditch the Champagne toast in favor of smashing a pomegranate on the floor as the clock strikes midnight. Greeks believe the fruit’s seeds symbolize prosperity and good luck, so the more seeds you see, the better the year ahead should be. It’s also seen as an opportune time to plays games of chance, so many gather to play cards or roll dice, while the practice of hanging bulbs of onion on the front door traces back to classical times as a symbol of regeneration and growth.
More food on the floor here, but this time it’s a dollop of cream that gets thrown for good luck. Also, many Swiss take to the streets in colorful costumes to perform the age-old ceremony of chasing away spirits.
Potatoes are an unusual way of foretelling one’s financial prospects, but in Peru you will see people placing three spuds under a chair or couch (one unpeeled, one peeled and one half-peeled) and selecting one at random one the stroke of midnight. Picking a peeled potato signifies a year of poverty, a half-peeled potato means you can expect a typical year, while an unpeeled potato predicts a windfall.
After casting a lump of molten metal (classically a horseshoe) into a bucket of cold water, Finns interpret the shape it takes after hardening to predict what the future holds. For example, a heart or ring form indicates a wedding in the New Year, a ship forecasts travel, and a pig signifies plenty of food.
Buddhist temples across the country ring their bells a total of 108 times – the total number of human sins in this faith. You might also see worshippers dressed up as the next year’s zodiac animal, which is a rooster for 2017. Attending a Bonenkai, or “year forgetting party,” you might notice homes and gates decorated with ornaments of pine, bamboo and plum trees. Toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles) are a mainstay on Japanese New Year’s menus, synonymous with both resilience (as the buckwheat plant is hardy) and letting go of misfortune since the noodles are easy to cut.