While for many people December 31st is spent dressed in something sparkly, shouting over loud music, and knocking back too many drinks, Colombians get far more creative when welcome in a new year. From eating multiple grapes, filling pockets with lentils, and running around the streets with a suitcase, NYE in Colombia is quite the spectacle for extranjeros. Ironically, however, perhaps the biggest adjustment foreigners have to make, is learning that most Colombians have a relatively tame midnight spent with their families…
If you’re looking to indulge in a little superstition or are just curious about local customs, here are the best unusual New Year’s Eve traditions in Colombia.
Eat exactly 12 grapes at midnight
Admittedly, this one isn’t unique to only Colombia; Spain also celebrates NYE by gorging on grapes. More of a game than anything symbolic, over the 12-second countdown to midnight, people in Colombia challenge one another to fit one grape in their mouth per second. Sounds easy, right? It’s surprisingly not. Traditionally, every grape was meant to represent a wish but these days it’s more a bit of fun to see who has the biggest mouth. Some stores even sell cans of peeled and de-seeded grapes for the extra competitive participants.
Make your first step with your right foot
Once the clock has chimed and it’s officially the New Year, Colombians believe that your first step should be taken with your right foot. The reason? To quite literally start the new year on the ‘right foot’ – meaning to start the new year in a good way. This one sounds a lot easier than it actually is; especially after a few Aguardientes and being consumed by hugs from every relative, it takes discipline to remember to walk using your right foot first!
Decorate the table with wheat
In a country with a strong agricultural industry, one of the oldest New Year Eve’s traditions is to fill the main dining table in the house with wheat. This decoration is done in the hope of ensuring that the following year is fruitful, with plenty to eat. Ideally, 12 shafts of wheat are best to have on the table, to reflect the number of months in the year and the changing seasons. This tradition isn’t as common in the cities, more so the rural towns, where it’s considered very important for business.
Wear yellow underwear
It’s not just the house that gets spruced up for a new year in Colombia. To guarantee 365 days of happiness and love, wearing new, yellow underpants on NYE is necessary. You don’t have to show the underwear to anyone, just put them on and know that you’ve bagged yourself some good vibes for the upcoming year. Some people even suggest that to maximize the effect, you need to wear the pants backward before midnight, and after, turn them the correct way. Oh, and they have to be new, otherwise it doesn’t count.
Put lentils in your pockets
Keeping in trend with the food traditions, filling your pockets with lentils on NYE supposedly originates from Europe. Now a firm routine in Colombia on December 31st, locals fill their pockets with lentils – any color or type – in the hopes of having a successful and bountiful New Year. This custom is particularly fun if you stuff your pockets and then attempt to run with your suitcase after (see the tradition below).
Go for a stroll with your suitcase
So, you’ve cleaned your house, taken your first step with your right foot, put wheat on the table, and eaten your grapes. What next? To make sure the next year is made up of 12 months of travel and adventure, grab your suitcase at midnight and pull it around the block. The suitcase can be full or empty depending on how active you’re feeling, but the route must be a full lap of your street. If you’re not up to the leisurely wander, be sure to take a look out of your window at midnight and count the tipsy people dragging their suitcases.
Have money in your hand
Probably the least nonsensical tradition, having cash (efectivo) in your hand or pocket at midnight symbolizes a promising financial year. It doesn’t have to be huge amounts, just a few pesos for when the clock strikes midnight to represent financial security for the year to come.
Burn the Año Nuevo doll
Comparable to Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, Colombians burn an effigy on New Year’s Eve as a way of getting rid of the earlier year and what it represents. The dolls are usually made from cardboard, straw, and sawdust and don’t have to be a particular figure – just a general person dressed in clothes. They are set alight at exactly midnight while people watch on and celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
Clean your house on the 31st
In preparation for the big event, New Year’s Eve is devoted to cleaning the house from top to bottom. We’re talking a thorough, behind-the-toilet kind of purge, where not a cobweb nor a stray hair can be found anywhere after. The idea is to rid your house of any negative energy, bad memories, or pessimistic thoughts from the previous year, meaning you go into the New Year with a (literal) clean slate. This tradition differs from others on this list, as it focuses on the year gone, rather than the year ahead.