Champagne and Auld Lang Syne is so boring. We revel in the world’s weirdest New Year traditions.
1. Spain’s 12 grape challenge
Revellers seeing in the new year in Spain stuff their mouths with grapes in the final moments of the year- one grape, & one wish, for each chime of the clock at midnight.
2. Great balls of fire, Scotland
In Stonehaven, Scotland, it is a custom to parade through the streets on New Year’s Eve while swinging blazing balls of fire around. Not for the faint hearted. The tradition is part of Scotland’s Hogmanay celebrations, although its roots trace back to the Vikings.
3. Red underwear, Turkey
The tradition of donning scarlet pants on NYE dates back to the Middle Ages, apparently. Red garments were frowned upon because of the colour’s association with all things evil, but on NYE, they brought good luck. The practice is especially popular in Turkey, where stalls selling red lingerie appear over the festive period and sell out fast.
4. Animal whispering, Romania
Farmers in Romania try to understand their animals in a New Year’s ritual which, if successful, signifies not just a Doctor Dolittle- esque gift for communicating with our furry relatives but good luck for the coming year.
5. Mass kissing, Venice
St Mark’s Square in Venice is known for holding not only a big firework display each NYE but some far more unusual- a mass “kissathon”. Up to 70,000 revellers pucker up for the snogging session. Don’t forget your Tic Tacs.
6. The suitcase walk, Ecuador
Been dreaming of a holiday but worried it might never happen? Take your empty suitcase for a stroll around the block- ignoring the curtain twitching from your neighbours- and make the dream a reality in the coming year. Or so goes the Ecuadorian tradition anyway.
7. Underwater tree planting- Siberia
There is a rather bizarre custom in Russia that involves cutting a hole in the ice covering Lake Baikal and diving to “plant” a tree. Note that only professional divers are allowed to participate.
8. Dinner for One, Germany
This British comedy sketch from 1963 about a lovely 90th birthday dinner has been inexplicably embraced by Germans, & is broadcast in many homes during new year festivities. It is up to the butler, James, to play the role of Miss Sophie’s departed friends, getting more & more drunk as he does so.
9. Bear dances, Romania
As well as whispering to their animals, Romanians celebrate new year by donning bear costumes & furs, & dancing from house to house, in an attempt to keep evil at bay. Other jamborees include “the dance of the goat”, symbolizing the death & rebirth of nature, with performers wearing a goat’ s head mask covered in fur & complete with real horns. Good luck convincing your friends to try that this year.
10. Possum- dropping, USA
In Brasstown, North Carolina, a possum in a transparent box is lowered over a noisy crowd, in the world’s only known “possum- drop”. It reflects Brasstown’s claim to be “the possum capital of the world”. A lawsuit form an animal rights group meant a fake possum has been used in previous years.
11. Cold swimming, UK
More than 1.500 people brave the icy waters off Saundersfoot, Wales, to raise money in a charity swim each year- & some might even say the cold is perfect for curing a New Year’s Eve hangover. The “Loony Dook”- a traditional New Year’s Day swim- also takes place in the Fifth of Forth in England.
12. Graveyard camping, Chile
Locals in Talca, Chile, like to see in the new year in the company of their dead relatives. Thought to have begun when a family broke in one year to be near their dead father, the town mayor now opens the graveyard after late- night mass & thousands sit surrounded by candles while classical music plays.
13. Furniture throwing, South Africa & Italy
Look out below! It’s the idea of starting the new year afresh that leads residents of Johannesburg, those in Hillsboro in particular, to throw old furniture out of their windows.
Italians follow a similar tradition- it featured in the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso.
14. Pork eating, Hungary
Food is a big aspect of New Year tradition in Hungary. A dinner of roast pork or kocsonya (cold pork aspic) on New Year’s Eve is supposed to bring a bountiful year as the pork’s rich fat symbolizes prosperity & wealth. But Hungarians avoid eating chicken & fish on New Year’s Eve & Day- winged fowl are supposed to symbolize luck flying away, & fish suggest luck swimming away.
15. Plate smashing & chair jumping, Denmark
The big New Year’s Eve tradition in Denmark involves smashing plates against your friends’ front doors, It’s a measure of popularity to find a heap of broken china on the doorstep at midnight- according to the tradition, this brings good luck, so the more smashed plates, the more you’ ll get. It’s also tradition to jump off a chair at the stroke of midnight- symbolizing the leap into the New Year.
16. Best of the rest
In Switzerland they drop a dollop of ice cream on the floor; in Panama they set fire to muñeco characters (which often bear a resemblance to celebrities); the French devour stacks of pancakes; Bolivians hand straw dolls outside their homes; & in Ireland they bang loaves of bread against the walls.