We can almost hear the sound of bells ringing in the New Year. Before crossing the line that marks the start of 2018, it’s worth thinking about how other parts of the world celebrate this milestone and what their New Year’s rituals consist of. With its strong historical ties, it would be easy to assume that Latin America shares many of the same traditions as Spain, like eating 12 grapes at midnight, wearing red undergarments or dropping a ring into the champagne glass for the toast. But if there is one thing that defines Latin America, it’s that the region has its own customs and ancient rituals that also form part of New Year’s Eve. Surrounded by family and friends, December 31st in Spain and Latin America is the perfect time to put good resolutions into practice so they bring health, money and love. As we round the corner to welcome 2018, we have made a list of New Year’s rituals that have taken shape into superstitions—such as not wishing a Happy New Year before midnight or celebrating the event with fire and water—to ensure a positive year.
The most exciting New Year’s rituals and customs in Latin America
Ecuador and its burning dolls
In Ecuador, the New Year’s ritual that follows the famous midnight grapes is to make a rag doll and set it on fire to burn the negative aspects about the old year and welcome the new one. Venezuela, Peru and several South American countries have similar rituals in order to “burn the old year.”
These rag dolls may bear a resemblance to a certain politician, soccer player or famous individual who is not particularly well-liked. After the stroke of midnight, people wishing for a year filled with travel run around the block with a suitcase. Ecuadorians who want to find love and business success in the upcoming year should wear yellow undergarments.
Kicking off the year in El Salvador
The custom in El Salvador is to crack an egg into a glass of water and leave it overnight by an open window. In the morning, the figure revealed by the egg represents the aspect that will bring good fortune in the coming year. According to another New Year’s Eve ritual, if you wear your undergarments inside out during the last hours of the old year and return them to their correct position after midnight, then your closet will be filled with new clothing throughout the year.
Mexico eats the midnight grapes at its own pace
In Mexico, just like the rest of Latin America, people ring in the New Year with parties and joy, and they also share the Spanish tradition of wearing colored undergarments and attending mass to receive a blessing. Grapes are also eaten at midnight, but the difference is that the pace is not set by a television show; instead, a wish is made before every grape. People searching for love wear red undergarments, while those who want a ritual for money choose to wear yellow instead.
At midnight, Mexicans sweep their home to shoo away anything bad from the old year, and just like in Ecuador, they also take a stroll with a suitcase if their wish is to travel more. A tradition that can only be found in certain parts of Mexico is the idea of hanging a toy lamb inside the home above the front door to ensure abundance. The country also shares with Peru and Venezuela the tradition of making a rag doll and setting it on fire to symbolize getting rid of any negative energy from the past year.
Puerto Rico and a wet New Year
When the clock strikes twelve, Puerto Ricans fill pots and pans with water and toss it through the front door of their home. Some families even pour buckets of water through the window on New Year’s Eve to wash away their problems. Another Puerto Rican custom is to listen to El Brindis del Bohemio (A Bohemian Toast), a traditional poem that can be recited or sung and has a hint of sadness despite being used for good luck.
Countless New Year’s superstitions in Colombia
Colombia has a wide array of superstitions, such as standing at midnight to ensure money, luck and health; slamming the door to ward off evil spirits from the home; eating the twelve grapes; and taking a packed suitcase around the block in order to travel during the upcoming year. Wearing yellow is one of the most popular New Year’s Eve rituals because it brings good luck, and just like Peruvians and Ecuadorians, Colombians also make dolls that are then burned. One of the differences is that in Colombia they are stuffed with fireworks and placed along the road to welcome the New Year with colorful sparks that fill the night sky.
Nicaragua also features flames on New Year’s
Nicaragua has a tradition that is becoming increasingly popular: the popular burning of “El Viejo” or “La Vieja”, in which dolls made of wood and cotton are dressed in old clothing and usually appear to be smoking or drinking alcohol. Just like in other Latin American countries with similar customs, the idea consists of leaving behind the bad and starting 2018 with a clean slate. Superstitious Nicaraguans who are less traditional fill their house with the scent of cinnamon to ensure a peaceful home life and to ward off any tension or stress. Nicaragua also has other New Year’s rituals, such as sweeping away any negative energy from the home, holding the midnight toast in the right hand (even if the person is left-handed), and hopping three times with the right foot for good luck throughout the year.
New Year’s rituals in Guatemala
Anyone in Guatemala who owns a piece of jewelry, preferably made of gold, must use it to welcome the New Year according to the belief that this ritual will bring money and prosperity. At noon on January 1st, Guatemalans step outside to look at the sky and count the clouds as they silently pray; the total number represents the money they will win throughout the coming year. The New Year’s Eve suitcase ritual is also very popular in this country, although Guatemalans pack them with clothing and place them behind the front door so the family will have trips and positive experiences that year.
It is believed that Guatemalan children must ring in the New Year with something new or they will not have new clothing the entire year. This has become a custom at the start of every school year, when children show off their new clothing and materials to ensure good grades.