Crazy New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world


The Italians bring in the New Year with red underwear, the Spaniards with grapes, the Scots

with a fruitcake and a piece of coal: all of these customs are said to bring good luck. The

online language learning community at has been exploring traditional and

unusual New Year’s customs from countries where the world’s five most widespread

languages are spoken: English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. This is how the

world celebrates New Year’s Eve!

Happy New Year!

All over the world, people wish each other “Happy New Year”, as English is the main

language in more than two dozen countries, as well as an official language in another 30.

New Year’s Eve traditions, however, vary considerably within the English-speaking world. It is

common for many English-native speakers to raise a glass at midnight and sing “Auld Lang

Syne”: whether it’s on London’s Trafalgar Square, the New Year’s ball drop in New York’s

Times Square or in a small New Zealand town. The Scottish ballad is probably the world’s

most famous song sung at the stroke of midnight.

However, there is also a lesser-known Scottish tradition: it is said that the first visitor after

the New Year brings luck into the house (especially if he is tall and handsome). Therefore,

after midnight young Scottish men go door to door of friends and relatives wearing a

traditional kilt, carrying a bottle of whiskey, lump of coal and armed with a black bun – a

fruit cake with raisins, citrus peel and almonds.

Feliz Año Nuevo!

While the Scots wait for New Year’s luck to come knocking at their door, the Spaniards must

demonstrate their own “skills” at midnight. A widely practiced Spanish New Year’s tradition

is to shove twelve grapes in your mouth in the twelve seconds after midnight. Spaniards

gather for the grape feast on marketplaces such as Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. A grape is then

eaten and a secret wish is made for each chime of the clock tower. Those without a church

clock nearby, gather together and listen to the bells on television. If a person looses count or

swallows their grapes whole, then the wishes will not come true. The highest level of

concentration is required for this custom.

The Argentineans practice the New Year’s Eve tradition of getting rid of last year’s baggage,

especially in Buenos Aires, where people shred papers and documents from the previous

year on December 31 and then throw them out the window. This tradition not only cleans

out last year’s trash, but also allows children to enjoy a “White New Year’s Day” in

summertime temperatures.

Bonne Année!

The French celebrate the new year rather calmly and quietly, surrounded by friends and

family (of course, there will always be good food). The French eat very well on New Year’s

Eve: smoked salmon, famous goose liver pâté (foie gras), snails as well as oysters, lobster

and caviar are all poplular. These delicacies are then carefully arranged into a three (or

more) course meal. At midnight, champagne corks pop across France. Private fireworks are

prohibited for safety reasons in many places, but instead, champagne glasses clink and

kisses are exchanged under mistletoe to deliver good wishes.

Buon Anno Nuovo!

Italian men give red underwear to their girlfriends, wives and even mothers on New Year’s

Eve. The tradition says that slipping into a pair of red panties for New Year’s brings good

cheer and happiness. In Italy, there is less emphasis on fine dining – unlike in neighboring

France – and more emphasis on achieving goals. Pig’s feet and lentils are placed on the

dinner table of many Italian families for New Year’s Eve. This is a traditional peasant dish

meant to represent saving money, as the lentils represent coins. As they swell whilst

cooking, the this signifies wealth in the new year.

Feliz Ano Novo!

In Brazil the New Year’s Eve menu is comparatively modest: the traditional bean stew

‘Feijoada’ is much like the lentils offered in Italy’s financial blessing. As for their choice in

underwear, the Brazilians differ from the Italians yet again. If you are still searching for love,

a pair of red undies should be worn. However, those who already have a partner and wish

for a harmonious year together should put on a pair of white underwear. Many Brazilians

dress in all white on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of purity, innocence and peace, but also for

fertility. Of course, the biggest and best New Year’s Eve parties in Brazil are on beaches like

Copacabana or Ipanema. Even the sea “dresses up” to welcome in the New Year: colourful

flowers are thrown into the water in honor of Yemanjá, Goddess of the Ocean.

Prosit Neujahr!

“Prosit Neujahr“ is wished throughout Germany at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

“Prosit” actually comes from Latin and means: may it benefit! No matter whether you’re in

South America, Northern Europe or in New Zealand, people all around the world associate a

new year with a fresh start. Across the globe, people raise their glasses and wish each other

a happy new year at midnight.

We wish you well!

Marta was an Italian Language Expert at Busuu. She grew up in Iseo, a small town in the north of Italy and later went to London to study French and Russian at university. As part of her degree she studied in Siberia. She’s an avid rock climber and when she's not busy climbing she enjoys writing, poetry and meditation.


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