New Year's Traditions Around the World

Gorging with grapes and smashing of plates: A look at traditions for casting off what's old and celebrating what's new

New Year’s Eve: It's the annual celebration of casting off the old and putting our hopes in the immediate future. But it's also a time to gorge on grapes, to clean your house, to throw plates at your neighbor’s door and to wear yellow underwear. As you plan your travels, check out these four destinations where the cultural traditions are sure to put a smile on your face as you start the new year: 


The tradition of eating grapes at midnight originated in Spain about a century ago. There is some disagreement on how it started. Some say it began as a way to use up surplus grapes from an overabundant harvest. Others say it began with middle-class Madrileños imitating the French haut monde who celebrated le réveillon with Champagne and grapes. Whatever its origins, the tradition has spread to many other countries and involves downing one grape for each of the 12 strokes before midnight. So set your stopwatch: that’s one grape every five seconds. And don’t try to cheat by using tiny grapes; you’ll want to meet the challenge with the big green Aledo variety.


The challenge in Japan is to get one’s house (or store or office) in order before January 1st. The most important holiday of the year, Oshogatsu is a time of purification and fresh starts. According to the Shinto religion, a god enters the home at the new year, so a thorough cleaning, or osoji, takes place to welcome the kamiOshogatsu is a family-oriented celebration, and on New Year’s Eve everyone gathers at home or at a temple to dine on soba noodles at midnight.


Keeping bad spirits out of the house is a New Year’s tradition in Denmark, accomplished by everyone in the household jumping in unison off chairs at midnight. Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to show your neighbors a little love by bombarding their house with plates. Danes hoard old or cracked dishes all year long in order to ensure an ample supply. Remember, it’s only neighbors you like who receive this treatment. The more shards of broken crockery found on your porch on New Year’s Day, the more popular you are. A smashing good time, indeed.


Now about those yellow undies. In Peru at this time of year, you’ll see shop windows full of the not-so-unmentionables. Wearing them at the stroke of midnight is said to bring luck and prosperity, so you don’t want to be caught with your pants down, so to speak. Just before the magic hour strikes, everyone rushes to a private spot to slip on their new underwear beneath their party clothes. Once this feat is accomplished, it’s time to grab an empty suitcase and dash around the block. Those yellow undies may bring you luck, but if you want to travel in the new year, put your faith in the empty valise. Hopefully, you’ll be packing it soon for an exciting adventure.

Spain New Year's tradition with grapes