7 Strange New Year’s Traditions Around the World

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If you live in the U.S., there is a roughly 100 percent chance that you’ve celebrated a New Year’s Eve by watching at least a few minutes of the famous celebration in Times Square. And maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “I wonder what other people around the world are doing to ring in the New Year?” As some people believe the number 7 can foreshadow good luck in the New Year, we’ve put together seven unusual customs that some cultures follow to send out the old year and bring in the new.

 

7. Take an Icy Swim

People in several cultures celebrate the New Year by taking an icy swim.

© Alexander Fritze

Each Jan. 1 in The Netherlands, tens of thousands of hardy souls brave the icy waters at lakes and beaches to go swimming. It’s known as Nieuwjaarsduik, which translates to “New Year’s dive.” So-called “polar bear swims” are also becoming more popular on New Year’s Day in Canada and the UK.

 

6. Burn an Effigy

In some Latin American countries, people burn an effigy to help ward off evil spirits.

© Carlos Adampol Galindo

At midnight on Dec. 31 in many Latin American countries, most notably Ecuador (see above), many people burn an effigy of politicians, celebrities, or people who have influenced their life in the past year. Burning these “muñecos” is seen as a way to ward off evil spirits and ring in the New Year with a fresh soul.

 

5. Eat a Dozen Grapes at Midnight

Many Spaniards celebrate the New Year by eating a dozen grapes at midnight.

© Julio Albarrán

One year around the beginning of the 20th century, Spanish grape producers had a dilemma — an abundant harvest had left them more grapes than they could sell. One thing led to another, and a new tradition was born, with Spaniards gobbling down grapes at midnight to usher in the New Year. Specifically, Spaniards eat one grape with every stroke of the famous Puerta del Sol bell tower in Madrid, which hosts a Times Square-like celebration (see above photo) each New Year’s Eve. Eating the grapes is believed to bring good luck and banish evil. This tradition has since spread to other Spanish-speaking countries.

 

4. Get the Lead Out

Some Germans and Austrians believe that melting lead on New Year's Eve can help them divine the future.

© Peter Klever

Some Germans believe that melting some lead, throwing it in a pot of water and then interpreting the shape that results can help them foresee their prospects in the coming year. As with some of the other celebrations on this list, anything that involves flame, when combined with drinking, can result in serious injury.

 

3. Spend the Evening in a Graveyard

© Jes

Unlike some of the other customs on the list, this one is celebrated only in the small town of Talca, Chile. The town opens the local cemetery about an hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve, and thousands of residents turn out to spend the last hour of the old year in a festive atmosphere with their departed loved ones.

 

2. Jump Seven Waves at the Beach

Seven is regarded as a lucky number in many cultures.

© Glenn Simmons

This custom, which doesn’t seem to be culture specific, is thought to bring good luck. The number 7 surfaces in other New Year’s traditions; in some cultures, it’s thought that eating exactly seven times on New Year’s Day signifies abundant food and health in the coming year.

 

1. Walk Around With a Suitcase

Can walking around with a suitcase bring new travels in the coming year?

© Jonathon Emmanuel

In some Latin American countries, this tradition is thought to herald a year full of travel. The perfect celebration for someone trapped in an airport on New Year’s Day, right?

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