5 Latin American Traditions to Ring in the New Year

5 Latin American Traditions to Ring in the New Year

New Year’s is a time for reflection, for resolutions, to balance the positive and the negative elements from the past year and to set goals for the coming one. However, many regions around the world have their own unique ways of celebrating the New Year and 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:

Latin American Traditions: 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.

Latin American Traditions for New Year's: Yellow Underwear

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 years, 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.

Latin American Traditions for New Year's: 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.

Latin American Traditions: 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.

Latin American Traditions for New Year's: Burning the Old Year

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 Latin American traditions? How do you celebrate New Year’s? Let us know in the comments below!

Photography of Latin American Traditions 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 2 years 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 2 years ago

    Hey Carsla, happy new year!!

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

  3. Marshall County Memeorial Library 11 months ago

    Thanks for the comments. We are planning to use these to welcome our Spanish-speaking patrons. Thank you for the advice, traditions, and, of course, the enthusiasm.

    Art Coomes
    Library Assistant, MCML

    • Author
      Laura 11 months ago

      Hey Art!! glad you liked the traditions!! Make sure to do the one with the luggage, it hasn’t failed to deliver tons of travelling! :) Happy 2015!

  4. Aaron 11 months ago

    thank you

  5. Tomas 1 month ago

    A traditional Año Viejo, New Year’s Eve, celebration is spent with lots of family and friends. But before the party begins Puerto Ricans spend the entire day cleaning the house, yard, cars, and even sweeping the street. Why? It is believed that whatever the condition in which the New Year finds our property, that is how our property will stay for the rest of the year. Out with the old and in with the new.

    Make your New Year’s Puerto Rican style gathering an event to remember. Our family decorated with white lites everywhere and silver and gold accents. Streamers and balloons hung from the ceiling. Silver and white curly ribbon made it look special.

    Buy “estrellitas” a kind of fireworks that is safe to use and legal in most cities. Estrellitas or Sparklers are long thin dark sticks that are lit at one end and sparkle like stars. Buy the 20 inch-long sparklers because they last long enough for everyone to light up at the same time. Just hold them at least a foot away from anything and the sparks will be safe. Use a wind-proof lighter to light. These can be purchased on the internet or purchased at party stores. Light them when the countdown begins.

    And also pass out baggies with 12 grapes that people need to start eating when there are 12 seconds to the New Year. Those who can eat them by Midnight will have good luck that year.

    After all the hugs and kisses are over have someone recite the poem “El Brindis del Bohemio” listed on our site – or listen to a recording. This is the Puerto Rican tradition.

    Serve bacalaitos because it’s an inexpensive and real Puerto Rican party food. Toast the year with Cidra.

    We at El Boricua wish you all a very Prospero Año Nuevo!

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