I’ve been reading up on the reasons behind a few of the better-known New Year’s Eve traditions, and several I’ve never heard of before. So 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 that loud noises and sparkling explosions, set off at the stroke of midnight, would scare away these specters of misfortune, and bring us favour.
In Spain, a New Year’s tradition is to eat twelve 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 get another down 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 immediate medical intervention.
How about changing your underwear for good luck? (Mom was right. It does matter.) 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 dishes 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 throwing plates 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 should someone choose 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 partiality in hair colour harkens back to the days of Viking invasion when a blonde-haired man barging through the door, often wielding an axe, could carry life-altering 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.