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 busuu.com 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
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“ 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!