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Four Interesting New Year’s Traditions

January 1, 2013

Here are four bizarre New Year’s traditions from around the world you could have sampled if you weren’t sitting home (except…trust us, you should be glad that you didn’t.)

Interesting New Year's Traditions

Burning Effigies

In Ecuador, the custom is to build a scarecrow out of newspapers or wood to help scare away bad luck. Around midnight, celebrants gather outside of their homes, set their scarecrows on fire, and watch them burn to cinders as the clock strikes 12. In Panama, they prefer to burn effigies of public figures. Called muñecos, they can be anything from Olympic athletes to TV characters to politicians. Supposedly, these effigies represent the old year and burning them somehow chases away evil spirits that might cause trouble in the new year.

Giant Fireballs on Poles

During the annual celebration of Hogmanay, the Scots practice a custom called “first footing.” The first person to enter your home on New Year’s Day should bring a gift with them (traditionally whiskey or shortbread). Folks also love to attend bonfire ceremonies on the 31st where participants swing around giant fireballs on poles.

Wearing Yellow Underwear

It’s considered incredibly lucky in South America. Market vendors start selling brightly-colored undies right after Christmas. While yellow continues to be the most popular pick (it supposedly brings wealth in the new year) red skivvies are also a favorite (they promise love). At the stroke of midnight on the 1st, some celebrants quickly change into their lucky undies while others prefer to put them on before they head out for the evening.

Hot Lead Fortune Telling

Here’s what they do in Germany and Finland: They get some lead and melt it. Then they pour the hot (and pretty dangerous) lead into a bowl of water. The shape that’s formed will supposedly determine key events in the coming year. A heart or a ring shape means there will be a wedding. A ship signifies that you’ll take a trip and a pig means you’ll have plenty of food to eat. But beware a puddle of lead that turns into a cross—that spells doom.

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January 2, 2013 1:46 pm

For first footing in Scotland you should bring 3 gifts, coal – to keep you warm throughout the year, shortbread – so you don’t go hungry and whisky – so you don’t get thirsty (or sober!)

January 2, 2013 3:08 pm
Reply to  Lee

Sounds like a delicious tradition.

January 2, 2013 4:58 pm
Reply to  Lee

Where’s the airport?

January 3, 2013 3:12 am

I was curious about “first-footing” and asked a Scottish colleague about it. Where he’s from, the tradition continues but there’s no steadfast rule as to what first-footers should bring with them. Whiskey and shortbread are still the most common items but others like to bring wine, cookies or candy. But how to know if you’re a first-footer? I guess that most people make sure to bring something with them to the houses of friends during the first few weeks of January, just in case. My colleague’s father also maintains his own odd tradition. He absolutely has to be the first… Read more »

January 3, 2013 2:19 pm
Reply to  B

Very cool – thanks for doing the research, B.

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