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 Grapes

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 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 Lentils

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

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

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;


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