Get a dose of quirk

New Year traditions

Get a dose of quirk

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering it will be happier… On December 31, when the calendar flutters away 2014, will you, like Lord Alfred Tennyson, cling to hope and believe that 2015 will be happier? Will you step out with friends and family, guzzle beer and jive the night away?

Are you the kind who twiddles thumbs and diligently lists new year’s resolutions only to forget the next morning? Will the solitary kinds pop some corns, quaff some fizz and sit in front of the television watching their fave actor break into a gig, or laugh at silly stand-up jokes? Will you hold hands, sit on the terrace and count the stars as the night slips into a new morning of a new year? Or, will you spend the New Year’s Eve tweeting?

There are countless ways of shrugging off last year’s stress, conflicts, shattered dreams and hoping for a better year. Perhaps as many ways of ushering in the New Year as there are people. Make that 7 billion ways! Not all ways as mundane as tweeting, parades and fireworks, though. Why not throw dishes at the neighbour’s door? Jump off a chair? Play dangerously with giant blazing balls of fire? Wear yellow underwear?

Eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight? Walk around the bend with an empty suitcase? If you think these are ideas of a lunatic, you are wrong. In many countries, these are real New Year’s traditions. The quirkiness stemming from the ol’ world belief that what you do on New Year’s Eve or the first day of the year influences the fate of days ahead.

If you were in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela during Christmas holidays, do not smirk if you find unending rows of red and yellow underpants on sale. Forget the Christmas tree angels and buntings, the underpants find more takers.

These are not just any underpants — they are auspicious! In these countries, people believe that it is lucky to wear new underpants on the first day of the year. Red and yellow are the most popular colours: red will bring in love, yellow money. How do you explain the tradition of covering your derriere for luck? Honestly, I know not.

I am assuming that men in Central America pull trousers over their brightly coloured underpants before they step out. But would you faint if you saw a street cluttered with polka dots? Polka dots. Big dots. Small dots. Polkas everywhere. It happens in the Philippines. Those polkas — and all things round — symbolise coins, hence prosperity. On New Year’s Eve, Filipinos wear polkas and arrange a heap of round fruits on the dinner table. The more eager luck-seekers eat 12 round fruits at the stroke of midnight. In Spain, they follow the same fruit tradition.

Thankfully, they stick to grapes — one grape at the 12 strokes of midnight; 12 grapes for 12 months of the year. Thank god for small grapes. Imagine gobbling 12 apples in 60 seconds.

On New Year’s Eve, fire is not merely about sparklers glittering in the night sky. Fire steps beyond pretty fireworks. It acquires a menacing mien. In Finland, it is an old tradition to dip molten tin into a container of water. When the fire dies, the tin hardens and acquires a shape, people gape at the tin shape to make predictions for the coming year.

If the tin looks like a ring or heart, wedding bells will ring, ship signifies travel. The foodie prays for a pig shape — the pig means plenty of food. In Panama, the celebs get devoured by fire. Their effigies, really. Huge effigies of celebrities from various fields are set on fire to drive away evil spirits and bring a happier new year.

In Scotland, fire turns into a giant blazing ball. A tradition that dates back to the Vikings, townsmen parade with fireballs hoisted on a long pole (signifying sun) to purify the coming year. In Ecuador, scarecrows are burnt at midnight. Each home has its own burning scarecrow that destroys all the evil and misfortune of the year gone by.

However, it is in Denmark that New Year’s eve is the noisiest. With the thud of breaking dishes on doors. Not your own door, but that of neighbours and friends. Funnily, there are no barking neighbours. The more broken plates, glasses and cups at the door, the luckier one is.

A pile of broken porcelain on the door to welcome the new year? That sounds quirky. But there was no Twitter then. There were traditions. Weird traditions to say Happy New Year.

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