I’ve been reading the reasons behind a few better-known New Year’s Eve traditions, and several from countries I’ve never heard of before. Hang on to your shiny paper hat because now you’re going to hear ‘em too.
Let’s start with the best-known: fireworks and noisemakers. This custom was founded from an ancient fear of evil spirits. Everyone, particularly Stephen King, knows only the foulest of wicked treachery lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce on us unawares. And who needs that problem hanging around as we usher in the New Year? Enter horns, whistles, and bright, flashing lights. It was believed loud noises and sparkling explosions, set off at the stroke of midnight, would scare away these spectres of misfortune, and bring us favour.
In Spain, a New Year’s tradition is to eat 12 green grapes, one for each month of good luck. Unfortunately, it’s necessary to gobble the first grape as midnight strikes, swallow it, and quickly chomp another upon each successive stroke of the clock. Failure to swallow the last grape before the twelfth strike dies away leaves you as the recipient of bad luck, a throat clogged with partially masticated fruit, and in possible need of medical intervention.
How about changing your underwear for good luck? (Not to mention Mom’s admonition to don clean undies in case of a car accident). In some Latin countries, it’s believed the colour of your underpants on New Year’s Eve will either negatively or positively affect your immediate future. Red is thought to bring love and romance into your life, and yellow is all about prosperity. If you can manage to combine both colours, well—you got it made in the shade!
In Denmark, it’s customary to throw dishes against the doors of friends and neighbours. If you wake up to a huge pile of smashed crockery on your doorstep, you’re not only popular, you’re set up for good fortune throughout the coming year. Actually, I think I might try this. I’m going to take a box of old plates over to my brother’s house at midnight on New Year’s Eve, stealthily tiptoe onto his deck, and hurl them, one-by-one, at his door. Goodness knows he could use a year of luck. Of course, I might also need luck, to escape when he furiously lunges outside to clobber the fool at his door.
Another interesting tradition is in Naples where people discard old possessions to symbolize a new beginning. This is accomplished by tossing anything from kitchen appliances to furniture off their balconies. While most folks throw small, squashy items out the window, walking along a street at the prescribed hour could potentially be hazardous to your health if someone chose to lob a stove off the deck. Therefore, this little-known fact can also double as sound travel advice when planning a trip to Italy.
In Scottish folklore, there’s an ancient custom called first-footing that carries on to this day. When a stranger (it must be a man with dark hair), is welcomed into the home at midnight, it’s seen as a sign of luck and prosperity for the coming year. This harkens back to the days of Viking invasion when a blonde-haired man barging through the door, often wielding an axe, would carry negative consequences.
Whatever traditions you follow to usher in the New Year, I wish you well. May we all enjoy health, happiness, and prosperity in 2022. Happy New Year!
Helen lives on the family farm near Marshall, Saskatchewan, where she works as an author, columnist, and in education. Write Box 55, Marshall, SK. S0M1R0 or helentoews.com. to learn more about her Prairie Wool Books or newly released fantasy series.