With contribution by Crystal Chan-Long
Celebrating the New Year isn't just about poppin' bottles of champagne and making dubious resolutions (though we're definitely down for both) - in many countries, New Year's involves centuries-long traditions in wishing for health, love, and prosperity in the coming year. From grape guzzling in Spain to drinking ashes in Russia, these are some of the most interesting (and eyebrow raising) NYE customs around the world.
The Chinese New Year runs on a different lunisolar calendar from the West, and falls on the new moon between January 21st and February 20th. One of the most popular Chinese New Year’s traditions is the gifting of “red packets.” These small red envelopes, believed to suppress evil spirits, usually contain money, and are traditionally given by married people to children or unmarried young people (#singlelyfe). For good luck and fortune in the New Year, receivers of the red packets will sleep with them under their pillow for seven nights before opening them.
To celebrate New Year’s, or Nochevieja, which means “old night,” the Spanish watch the clock tower at the Real Casa de Correos (in person or on a televised broadcast) and quickly gulp down 12 grapes at each stroke of the clock. According to the century-old tradition, if you can finish all 12 “lucky grapes” - one for each month of the year - by the final stroke, you will have good luck in the New Year. If gulping down grapes isn’t your thing, join Spaniards in wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve, which is supposed to bring love and passion in the coming year. Ideally, they should be given to you by someone else (wink wink).
In Chile, the New Year is all about love and prosperity. Chileans believe that eating lentils on New Year’s Eve will bring good fortune, and that placing a luca, or $1000 peso bill, in your shoe before midnight will cause it to multiply in the coming year. Wearing yellow underwear brings happiness as well as financial success but take care: you're supposed to put them on inside out before midnight then quickly reverse them to the proper way in the first few minutes of the New Year. Sounds a little logistically challenging, but, you know, probably #worthit for happiness.
On the beautiful islands of Greece, one of the most honored customs of the New Year is eating a special New Year’s cake called Vasilopita (or “king’s pie”). A small coin wrapped in aluminum foil is hidden inside the cake, which is cut at midnight to bless the house and bring good luck. Each family member, guest, and religious/symbolic figure or entity gets a cut and whoever has the slice with the hidden coin is believed to be blessed with good luck for the New Year. Sadly (very sadly), the tradition of using actually valuable coins like gold sovereigns is no longer practiced.
One of the most popular Russian New Year's traditions is a not-so-tasty kind of wish making: you write down wishes on a piece of paper, burn it with the flame of a candle in the last moments of the year, then mix the ashes with a glass of champagne and guzzle it down right before the clock strikes midnight. The whole thing sounds a little bit like a feat of skill, requiring hand-eye coordination, stoicism in the face of danger, and good timing. So go forth and complete the challenge to win at New Year's.
United States (and other places)
The midnight kiss is one of the most iconic New Year's traditions in the U.S. and countries across the globe. But do you know where that tradition actually comes from? The story goes that during the Renaissance when masquerade balls were everyone's jam, Europeans believed that the masks symbolized evil spirits and the wrong-doings of the year before. At midnight, everyone removed their (bad) masks and received kisses, which were the purifying force to banish all the evil and vices. Never underestimate the power of a good smooch.
Looking for a way to celebrate New Year's? Find the NYE party of your dreams at Joonbug.