Latino New Year’s Eve Traditions
Man feeding woman grapes George Doyle, Getty Images
The worst superstition I ever heard about New Year’s Eve is that whatever you are doing at midnight is what you will be doing the entire year. If that were the case, I would either spend the entire year drinking champagne (I wish) or struggling to stay up until midnight so I can plant a kiss on my husband’s lips.
The superstitions and rituals from Latin America give me hope that there things I can do to ensure that my New Year will be happy, prosperous, and full of exciting and unexpected travel - even if I am celebrating from my couch in yoga pants.
My favorite rituals are those that are meant to guarantee the coming year will be prosperous. Several countries advocate for wearing yellow underwear to bring the big bucks. Others believe having cash in hand at the stroke of midnight or throwing coins on the ground will get the winds of fortune blowing your way. Let’s just say I will hit the ATM early on December 31st.
For happiness in the upcoming year, have 12 grapes handy. Though originally a Spanish tradition that began in the early 20th century after a grape surplus in the Alicante region, most Latin American countries follow the same rite and have their grapes ready for when the clock chimes. The trick is to swallow 12 grapes in 12 seconds. Make sure to buy small, seedless grapes. You don’t want to choke.
Panama and Colombia have their own traditions that involve burning effigies meant to represent the old year. In Ecuador they will make the effigy to resemble local politicians that are unpopular. The practice sounds like it would be fun to do if celebrating with a big group of friends, especially in an election year for those whose preferred candidates lost. But to me, this one sounds like a lot of effort. Perhaps I could just burn my credit card bills or my fat jeans.
Dominicans and Puerto Ricans like to use the New Year to do some spring cleaning. The house is scrubbed from top to bottom, and at the stroke of midnight a bucket of water is thrown out the front door to symbolize starting the New Year fresh and free from the dust of the previous year. Some Dominicans pull out a broom and sweep the floor, then throw the old broom out, replacing it with a new one in the morning. Brazilians start off the New Year with their own cleansing ritual – if they live by the ocean – by gathering at the beach to take a dip at midnight.
If you see someone dragging a suitcase down the street at midnight, it’s likely the person in front of it wants to rack up some frequent flyer miles in the coming months. This practice is supposed to bring travel into your future.
These rituals may or may not serve their intended purposes, but what could they hurt? If it’s true that whatever you are doing at the stroke of midnight will be on your agenda the entire year, I would much prefer to say I was summoning good fortune into my life with my yellow panties while I scarfed down grapes for happiness and started the year with a spotless house. That sounds way better than falling asleep on the couch in yoga pants before midnight.