New Year’s Eve traditions in Latin America
With every different country comes a slightly different New Year’s Eve tradition; and while firework displays and large parties with food and drink are quite common in a lot of countries, in Latin America there are some unique traditions that we’d love to share with you.
1. Eating 12 grapes
One of the most common traditions in all Latin American countries is eating 12 grapes – one for each month of the New Year for good luck. The tradition is borrowed from Spain, and in some countries you also make wishes with each grape.
Fire is used in many countries in Latin America to dispose of any negative vibes. In Chile for example, people write down things they would like to change on a piece of paper and then burn it. In Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay they use ‘’año viejos’’ – or effigies – of people who played a big role in the news, politics or even one’s personal life throughout the previous year. The ‘’año viejos’’’ are displayed after Christmas and burned in a bonfire at midnight on New Year’s Eve. This is a symbolic custom to receive new hopes of change and leaving behind all that happened the previous year.
3. Cleaning the house
Another way to settle with the past is to sweep and clean the whole house. To start the New Year fresh and clean, most people in Latin America make sure that their homes are spotless by New Year’s Eve.
4. Throwing a bucket of water out a door or window
Plenty of traditions surround the theme of ‘out with the old.’ In many Hispanic countries, throwing a bucket of water out a door or window signifies renewal and burning the past. The water is supposed to represent the person’s tears and suffering. In Uruguay this tradition is taken a step further with the Guerra de Sidra (The Cider War Festival) in Montevideo. On New Year’s Eve cider, beer and water fights break out on Port Market.
5. Eating lentils
Many meals and superstitions in Latin America revolve around lentils. The seeds symbolize prosperity and good fortune, and in many countries they are eaten at midnight on New Year’s Eve. In Venezuela, people wrap 12 lentils in a money bill to improve financial well-being for the New Year.
6. Proximity to money
Speaking of financial well-being, proximity to money is always an important theme in Latin America. In some countries, you have to hold money in your hand when the clock strikes 12. In other countries, they put the money in shoes and in Ecuador they hide money around the house to bring prosperity in the New Year.
7. Wearing the right shade of underwear
This might be one of the most unusual traditions of the list. Wearing the right colour of underwear is believed to have a big impact on the upcoming year. Red stands for luck in love and yellow represents happiness and fortune. In Brazil, wearing new, white underwear (or dressing completely in white) while jumping seven waves, and/or placing flowers into the ocean is a way to wish for good luck and fortune.
8. Walking in a circle with a suitcase
In some Latin American countries it is believed that walking around in a circle with a suitcase – either around the home or around the block – will bring opportunities for leisure and travel in the New Year.
9. Spend New Year’s Eve with dearly departed at a Chilean cemetery
For the Chilean citizens of Talca it is important to spend New Year’s Eve together with deceased relatives and family members. Therefore, you will see many people from the city at their local graveyards decorating the graves, eating and drinking with each other and celebrating. It is thought to bring peace and prosperity for the year to come.
10. Predict your financial situation with potatoes
A classic custom in Peru and Colombia is to put three potatoes under your chair or sofa to predict your financial situation for the next year: one peeled, one partially peeled and one unpeeled. At midnight you need to pick, without looking, one of the potatoes. If you choose the potato without skin, this means no money; partially skinned means a regular year and the potato with a full skin means that you will have good fortune in the New Year.
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Real Latin America Experts
Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant
Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.
Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant
Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.
Carrie Gallagher - Travel Consultant
A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Escorted Groups team.
Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Consultant
Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our Sales team.
Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant
Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.
Ben Line - Travel Consultant
Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.