Unique New Years Traditions of Latin America
Latin American traditions for the New Year are both unique and fascinating! The start of a new calendar year provides the opportunity to reset and begin a new chapter for people all over the world, and Latin America is no exception.
Each country has its own special New Year’s Eve traditions, although there is often some overlapping across regions. Like in the United States, fireworks, feasts, and large parties are part of the celebration in many countries, Latin America also has several of its own unique traditions to ring in the new year.
Read this article to discover 10 of the most fascinating Latin American culture traditions for New Year’s. These rituals help people begin the new year with hope and the motivation to achieve their goals.
9 Amazing Latin American Traditions for the New Year
Many Latin American traditions come from Spanish New Year’s traditions, due to centuries of colonization and the resulting mix of cultures. From burning effigies to divination with potatoes, check out these 10 wild and weird Latin American traditions that take place on December 31 each year.
1. Burn the Old Year
Borrowing from a Spanish tradition, Many Latin American countries use fire to dispose of negative vibes from the past year. In Chile, people write down things they would like to change on a piece of paper and then burn it.
In Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Paraguay, and even as far north as Mexico, people make or buy, and then burn, año viejos (effigies of the “old year”) in the street at midnight on December 31st. This is a symbolic custom to receive new hopes of change and let go of all that happened in the previous year.
Similarly, some Latin Americans burn muñecos (effigies) of famous people, politicians, or even their own personal lives throughout the previous year in a bonfire. This cathartic action represents doing away with the old and making way for the new.
2. Wear Red, Pink, or Yellow Underwear
In many countries in South America, the color of your underwear matters on New Year’s Eve. Some people believe that wearing certain colors of underwear on December 31st is a surefire way to attract abundance and good fortune in the new year.
Red stands for luck in love, whereas yellow represents fortune and prosperity. Pink stands for happiness and joy.
In Brazil, dressing all in white, jumping seven waves, and placing flowers in the ocean is a way to wish for good luck.
Beware, though: many think wearing black on New Year’s Eve brings bad luck.
3. Walk Around the Block With a Suitcase
Have you caught the travel bug? In Venezuela and Colombia, many people believe that walking with a suitcase around the block in their neighborhood will lead to travel opportunities in the new year. Manifesting their reality as travelers by publicly strolling with luggage is just what they do!
4. Eat 12 Grapes
Another tradition with Spanish origins is greeting the new year by eating 12 grapes at midnight.
Each uva (grape) signifies good luck in each month of the new year. In some countries, people also make personal wishes with each grape.
5. Handle (or Hide) Money
Holding either coins or bills at midnight is thought to bring a fortune in multiple Latin American countries. In certain places, people even put money in their shoes. Some in Ecuador hide money around the house to bring prosperity in the New Year.
6. Sweep Out the House
Many Latin Americans want to start the New Year with a fresh and clean house. They settle with the past by sweeping and cleaning out the whole casa (house).
Lots of Latin American madres (mothers) ensure that their homes are spotless by December 31st every year—or else.
7. Throw a Bucket of Water Out a Door or Window
Yet another tradition that centers around the idea of “out with the old” is throwing a bucket of water out of a door or window. It signifies renewal and releasing the past. The water represents pain, difficulty, and suffering.
People in Uruguay take this tradition a step further with the unusual Guerra de Sidra (Cider War Festival) in the capital city of Montevideo. Raucous cider, beer, and water fights traditionally break out there on New Year’s Eve.
8. Eat (or Pocket) Lentils
Many people in Latin America believe that lentils symbolize prosperity and good fortune. Folks eat them at midnight on New Year’s Eve in various countries throughout the region and/or slip them into their pockets for safekeeping.
In Venezuela and Chile, people wrap 12 lentils in a paper bill to improve financial prosperity for the 12 months of the coming year.
9. Do a Potato Prediction
It’s traditional in Peru and Colombia to put three potatoes under your chair or sofa in order to predict your financial situation for the next year: one peeled, one half peeled, and one unpeeled. When the clock strikes twelve at midnight, you must choose one of the potatoes without looking.
Choosing the potato without skin means no money; half-skinned means a regular financial year, and the potato with a full skin means you’ll have extra good fortune in the New Year.
Learn Spanish in the New Year
Is learning Spanish one of your New Year’s resolutions? Or perhaps you’ll be ringing in the new year in a Latin American country?
There are so many benefits to becoming bilingual! Do you want to travel more easily? Would you like to speak with Spanish-speaking friends, relatives, or neighbors? Did you know that in the U.S. alone, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers?
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