New Year’s Eve traditions in Europe and South America
Monday, 5th December 2011
Whilst different cultures and countries celebrate their own events and traditions throughout the year, the arrival of a new year is something that tends to be celebrated worldwide.
Marking the end of a past year and looking forward to the next is something that evokes celebration, and there is normally an overriding sentiment of ‘out with the old and in with the new’.
Although New Year celebrations in some cultures take place at other times of the year (usually to mark the end of a religious or lunar year) most European and south American countries celebrate the coming of the new year according to the Gregorian calendar – on 31st December.
Below are examples of how the end of the year is celebrated in some of these two continents.
New Years Eve in German is called “Sylvester”. Fireworks at midnight are an integral part and people are generally outside at or shortly after midnight to watch or set off firework themselves. The lights and noise are considered to oust all bad spirits, so that you start the New Year with good fortune.
Just before midnight it is customary to count down the seconds, and then toast “anstoßen” at midnight, wishing each other “Ein frohes Neues Jahr” or for short “Ein frohes Neues”. German people also make “gute Vorsätze” new year’s resolutions and some people write them on paper and burn them to help make them come true.
There is also a tradition in Germany known as ‘Bleigießen’ – this happens after midnight, and involves heating lead in small pans over a candle and then dropping it into a bowl of cold water – you are supposed to be able to tell the fortune for the coming year from the shapes that form.
A common present for guests and friends to exchange on New Year’s Eve is a ‘Glücksschwein’, a marzipan pig considered to bring good luck for the coming year.
La Festa di San Silvestro as it’s known in Italy is celebrated, as with most Italian festivals, with food, family and fireworks! Families and friends get together for huge feasts, which often include dishes with lentils and sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s trotter, and of course a glass of spumante or prosecco.
Most towns and cities have public displays that include music and dancing, often with appearances from well-known bands, but Naples in particular is known for having an impressive New Year’s firework display.
An old custom that is still followed in some places, especially in the south, is to throw your old things out the window as a symbol of your readiness to accept the New Year.
Hogmanay is one of the best-known New Year’s Eve celebrations in Europe. Both 1st and 2nd January are Bank Holidays in Scotland, which gives people a chance to recover from the lively celebrations that Hogmanay is so famous for! Edinburgh is particularly well-known for its festivities, which include concerts, processions and some fantastic fireworks displays.
There are a number of traditions associated with Hogmanay, one of which is “First footing”. The custom is said to bring good luck and dictates that the first person to visit after midnight on New Year’s Eve (usually a friend or neighbour) must bring coal, whisky, salt or shortbread. Traditionally ‘first footers’ are supposed to be tall, dark-haired men, which is believed to date back to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep usually meant trouble!
Other traditions include cleaning houses on 31st December and taking out the ashes from the fire and clearing debts before the bells ring for midnight. Singing Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns, just after midnight is also traditional in Scotland.
In Brazil, New Year’s Eve is known as ‘Reveillon’, similar to its name in French. Brazil is a country that has become synonymous with a party spirit, and the New Year’s Eve celebrations certainly reflect this! All along the coast, cities plan fireworks displays and concerts, with Rio de Janeiro and other beach-side cities competing to offer the best every year.
New Years Eve rituals include going to the beach, all dressed in white, and lighting candles, putting them in little paper or polystyrene makeshift boats and sending them off as an offering to Iemanja, the goddess of the sea, so that they can have a good year to follow.
Noche Vieja as it’s known in Spanish is a party night like everywhere else in the world. As is so often the case in Spain, celebrations start late on the evening and continue all the way through to the morning!
One tradition specific to Spain is the eating of 12 lucky grapes at midnight – one with each chime of the clock.. If you eat them all, it is supposed to bring you good luck for the following year. This is known as the only event that all Spaniards do together at the same time!
January 1st is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also St. Basil’s Day. St Basil was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church and his remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor.
New Year is perhaps even more festive and important than Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of St Basil’s kindness to children.
There are many special dishes that are prepared at New Year but the most important dish is Vassilopitta or St Basil’s cake, inside the cake is placed a silver or gold coin.
There are lots of customs relating to bringing good luck for the new year in Peru – a country that is known for its mysticism and spirituality. Some such customs include dressing up effigies with old clothes and then burning them. New clothes are also popular representation of the new, and markets often appear in the streets in the run up to New Year. If you haven’t got new clothes, underwear is a very popular alternative. The colour of your underwear is also important - yellow is the most popular (for happiness and luck), followed by red (for love) or green (for money). Candles in these colours are also often bought and lit in people’s houses.
As in Spain, eating grapes as the clock strikes 12 is also a popular way of bringing luck - one grape for each of the twelve upcoming months.
If you have experienced New Year celebrations in other countries in Europe and South America, please leave your comments below!