In the Philippines, wearing polka dots and eating round fruits is supposed to ensure a prosperous new year; in Spain, wolfing down handfuls of grapes as the clock strikes 12 is said to have the same effect.
In São Paulo, La Paz, and other spots in South America, people don brightly colored underpants to ring in the New Year — red if they’re looking for love, and yellow if they want money.
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In other countries, New Year’s customs are about driving away the bad spirits of the past year, so that the new one can arrive unsullied and uncorrupted. The purifying power of fire is often used in such ceremonies: during the Scottish festival of Hogmanay, for instance, parades of village men swing giant blazing fireballs over their heads as they march through the streets. In Panama, effigies of popular celebrities and political figures—called muñecos—are burned on bonfires.
Danes ring in the New Year by hurling old plates and glasses...against the doors of friends' and relatives' houses. They also stand on chairs and then jump off them together at midnight. Leaping into January is supposed to banish bad spirits and bring good luck.
It’s a longtime Finnish tradition to predict the coming year by casting molten tin into a container of water, and then interpreting the shape the metal takes after hardening. A heart or ring shape means a wedding in the New Year; a ship forecasts travel; and a pig shape signifies plenty of food.
In (leaner) decades past, Estonians followed a custom of trying to eat seven times on New Year’s Day, to ensure abundant food in the coming year. (If a man ate seven times, he was supposed to have the strength of seven men the following year). Modern-day celebrations here, however—especially in the party-hearty capital of Tallinn—tend to revolve as much around alcohol as food.
Read: New Year and Christmas Traditions in Ukraine
In South Africa locals throw old appliances out the window.
No matter how odd they may seem to us, though, these customs share an optimism that’s hard not to appreciate. Out with the old, in with the new!