5 Latin American Traditions to Ring in the New Year

5 Latin American Traditions to Ring in the New Year

Feliz año 2009 - Inti

New Year’s is a time for reflection, for resolutions, to balance the positive and the negative from the past year and to set goals for the coming one. However, different countries or regions have their special ways of celebrating the New Year and to prepare for all that is to come. There are, perhaps, few places this is more true than in Latin America.

Across Central and South America, there are many different traditions to ensure wealth and well being for the coming year. Other than enjoying a pyrotechnic show when the clock strikes midnight, many people adhere to at least one, or a combination of, traditions that might seem strange to many around the world. As we get set to ring in the New Year, here are a few favourites:

12 Grapes Before Midnight - by Chris Oakley

Eating 12 Grapes and Making a Wish

A tradition adopted from the motherland, Spain, many people ring in the New Year by eating twelve grapes as fast as they can, nearly choking themselves in the process. With each grape symbolizing a month of the year, people will make twelve wishes as they slurp, gobble, and avoid asphyxiation. While eating grapes on New Year’s is popular all over Latin America, making wishes is characteristically Venezuelan.


Wearing Yellow or Red Underwear

In Chile, it’s tradition for ladies to wear yellow underwear on New Year’s to attract prosperity and money in the year to come. The basis for this rather strange ritual is colour, with the colour yellow representing the sun, which is viewed as the basis of life, prosperity and abundance on earth.

In recent yeras, this tradition has expanded across Latin America, with other colours representing a variety of New Year’s wishes. Red underwear, for example, has been worn to attract love. Last year, a group of Bolivians also tried to encourage wearing green underwear as a sign of hope. Finally, in Peru, it has become customary to wear coloured underwear inside out.

Lentils from above - Maggie Hoffman

Eating a Plate of Lentils

Another New Year’s tradition with Chilean roots that has become popular across the region involves keeping lentils around the house to ensure that the year to come is filled with prosperity and abundance. In addition to having lentils in the house, it is customary to eat a spoonful (or plateful) of the grain often right after you’ve finished eating your twelve grapes.

Run for the New Year

Running Around the Block with Luggage

My personal favourite comes right after the madness of midnight grape and lentil chugging. To ensure safe and abundant travels in the New Year, one needs to grab their luggage and run around the block. Last year, I added the touch of taking my passport and foreign currency as well to ensure more overseas trips.


Burning of the Old Year

In some parts of Latin America, it is customary for people to make a rag doll symbolizing the old year and burn it as the clock strikes twelve. In addition to the doll, some regions also burn photographs and other items to help create people let go of the year behind them and make room for what’s to come.

Do you have any weird or wonderful New Year’s traditions? Let us know in the comments below!

Photos courtesy of Flickr, Inti (CC BY 2.0), Chris Oakley (CC BY 2.0), Maggie Hoffman (CC BY 2.0), Teague Lyons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); Ronnie Borr; Wikimedia Commons, Tincho GELP;

Laura Delgado Ranalli
Laura was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, but has lived in cities including Sydney, Toronto, Montreal, and Florence and considers herself a citizen of the world. She currently lives in San José, Costa Rica, where she’s opening a boutique for emerging Latin designers. She is a football (soccer) junkie, loves extreme sports and adventure, and enjoys cooking (or anything related with food, to be honest). She also has a passion for learning about WWII and the holocaust.


  1. Carsla 12 months ago

    These are some interesting rituals, but they just seem like so much fun! ;D Happy New Year! 

    <3 Carsla
    Founder & CEO of Connect-the-Cloths
    A stylist, foodie, & writer’s blog in development.

  2. Laura 12 months ago

    Hey Carsla, happy new year!!

    They are indeed super fun, did you get to do any for the 31st?

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