By Tag Christof
Updated December 30, 2014
Credit: © B.A.E. Inc. / Alamy

This piece originally appeared on

Say what you will about inevitably broken resolutions, a new year can be a much-needed hard restart. There is no better time to set oneself up for an imaginary better/more productive/richer/fitter future whilst attempting to exorcise bad omens/habits/spirits/obligations/people from the concluding year. And hell, isn’t it just cathartic to imagine?

Beyond personal resolutions, though, the customs we use to welcome in a new year might be even more cathartic than the heavy self-promises to be dealt with later. The gestures, foods, outfits—some are outright bizarre and many are tied to old superstitions—are every bit as important as the march to midnight for schlepping off the old year. For instance, every December 31, we Americans bewilderingly lower a mirrorball into a crowd and watch it en masse on TV to mark Happy New Year—think of how bewildering that must seem out of context.

Here we cherry pick a few rich institutions of symbolic New Years gestures from around the world—mostly ones that seem like good fun, and a few we might try out ourselves this year. It might just mean a brighter 2015.


Spaniards stuff a dozen grapes into their mouths, one-by-one at the countdown to midnight. Luck and fortune should follow! The Swiss drop perfectly good ice cream on the floor. Bolivians bake coins into pastries and cakes—and the lucky New Years diner who finds the treasure will have luck throughout the year. Italians eat lentils whilst wearing red underwear for riches and love. Others, from the Baltics to Brazil, eat with gusto throughout the day to foreshadow an abundant new year.


Many Latin American cultures also share in the bright underwear pioneered by those avant-garde Italians, but they change up the colours depending on what they most hope for in the New Year—green for money, red for love and so on. In the Philippines, there’s a general consensus that a well-rounded would be best, so many people eat round foods and wear polka dots.


One of our favorite fashion countries of the past few years, Denmark, takes out its old-year anger on dishes in a tradition that sees plates broken against doors for good fortune. The Irish go it a bit lighter by sparing their china, but instead throw bread against walls to rid homes of old spirits. Some South Africans somewhat more violently chuck unwanted furniture out of windows.

Some Chileans sleep in cemeteries to accompany deceased loved ones into the new year, while séances to communicate with long lost loved ones are New Years commonplace across Latin America. Some Colombians cart around suitcases to presage grand travels hoped for in the new year.

Romanians are a bit less morose, choosing instead to attempt communication with the living. Living animals that is. Manly Scottish lads throw fireballs at one another in a ceremony for renewal and strength.

Get to it, 2014. Only two days left to figure out how to best bid farewell and say a triumphant hello to 2015.

Illustrated by Marleigh Culver.