There's something about the tearing away of the last day of the year on a calendar that fills people with emotion -- whether that emotion is hope, or optimism, or the double whammy of fear and loathing will be up to the calendar ripper-upper. One thing's certain, though: Nobody hopes for a BAD new year. Customs have been around for short, and long, times based around the whimsical idea that we can somehow game fate by performing a simple task, whether it be to eat a certain kind of food or, well, throw furniture out of a window. Read on for a tour of some of the world's unusual customs that have been framed around, when you really get down to it, the simple change of one day into another.
A custom hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa is one that should definitely keep pedestrians on their toes. The idea is to say buh-bye to the just-completed year by throwing old furniture out the window.
It's only natural to equate underwear with good luck -- er, right? Tradition in Italy, South America and Spain says that wearing red underwear on New Year's Eve will bring prosperity, love, and the kind of generalized happiness that only red undergarments can ensure.
Spain's "twelve grapes of luck" custom is pretty easy to observe, so long as you have a handy supply of grapes nearby. With each strike of a bell clock at midnight, you consume one grape. Finish all twelve, in time with the bell, and you've eaten your way to a full 365 days of prosperity. Not bad, for the cost of a bushel of grapes.
In Colombia, at the stroke of midnight, those who want to guarantee lots of travel in the new year do the obvious thing: grab some empty suitcases and run around the block with them. The faster the would-be traveler runs, the more travel he or she can expect.
In Scotland, new year's tradition of Hogmanay "first-footing" holds that if you're the first person to cross a home's threshold in the new year, you should bring a gift for good luck. (The luck is for the homeowner, it should be noted.)
Not far from the Scots, the Irish too have their share of new year's traditions. Among them is to bang bread against a wall, loudly. The goal of this bread abuse is to drive out bad luck, and bad spirits, from the home.
In Russia and Siberia, new year's traditions include taking a plunge into a frozen lake, with a tree trunk in hand (this "New Year's Tree" is to be placed under the ice).
In Finland, dipping molten tin into water is the first step toward divining what will happen in the new year. Once the tin hardens, its shape can then be interpreted. For example, does it look heart-shaped? That means the new year will include a wedding.
Something nifty happens in Romania at midnight on New Year's Eve: animals briefly attain the ability to speak. If an animal talks, the hearer is in for an awful year filled with bad luck, but all will be well if the animal says nothing. We like those odds!
The Danish people have an unusual tradition: They throw plates and glasses at the doors of neighbors' homes. On the surface, it sounds like a raw deal to the people living behind the door, but tradition holds that the more broken stuff you have outside your door, the luckier you are because of your great collection of plate-hurling friends.