From Polka Dots to Fist Fights – 5 Weird New Year’s Celebrations Around The World

By Debadrita

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Parliament Hill, Ottawa (Photo: ottawatourism.ca)

It’s the end of another year now, and it’s time to send it off in good style. Celebrating the beginning of the upcoming year is important to most cultures on this planet, and you probably grew up with New Year’s traditions yourself. From watching fireworks to feasting on great food (and making flimsy resolutions you, your neighbour, and your neighbour’s dog know you’ll never stick to), there are some widespread customs that most people have grown up with, or at least heard of. The following few traditions, ranging from cool, to very cool, to just plain weird (not necessarily in that order), are ones you may not have heard of before:

  1. Round Stuff – Philippines
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Ready-made arrangements of round fruits are found everywhere. (Photo: travelandleisure.com)

What does everyone have on their minds at any given time in the year? Money! What shape are coins? Circles! Thus began this particular Filipino circle-loving tradition, which maintains that round things or things with circles on them – circular fruit and polka dots included – bring financial luck. In Media Noche, which is the Filipino custom of feasting and drinking with family and friends on New Year’s Eve, usually twelve different round and sweet fruits are used as centerpieces, which represent each month of the year.

  1. Modified Chubby Bunny Challenge – Spain, Panama, and Peru
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No dipping grapes in champagne for kids (Spanish underage is below 18). (Photo: travelandleisure.com)

If you look around you on New Year’s Eve in Spain, you can enjoy the champagne (no underage drinking, please), the fireworks –and the sight of people with bulging cheeks of sweet Alicante grapes, furiously trying to eat their way through it all before the final chime of the bell. The tradition goes that when the bell starts to chime twelve times, for each ring of the bell, you must quickly eat one grape. If you manage to eat all the grapes by the last chime of the bell, you will have good luck in the upcoming year. This custom can be traced back to the 1880s, which most likely evolved from the French tradition of having grapes and champagne on the last day of the year.

Curiously enough, there’s a similar tradition in Panama and Peru. In Panama, as you eat each grape, you make a wish. The taste of the grapes will also determine how the respective month will go for you – for example, if the fourth grape tastes sour, April will be a sour month. In Peru, a thirteenth grape must be eaten for assured good luck.

  1. Burning Stuff – Panama, Ecuador, and Scotland
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A man jumping on a dummy on fire, also known as a really bad idea. (Photo: imgur.com)

Pyromaniacs in these countries must be seriously happy at this time of year. Scarecrows (Ecuador), old photographs with bad memories associated to them (Ecuador again), effigies of celebrities and politicians (Panama) – what isn’t burned is the real question here. In Ecuador, it is believed that burning the scarecrows and old photos will also burn away ill fortune from the past year, so the Ecuadorians can start over with a clean slate.

In Panama, according to folklore, by beating and setting the effigies on fire, the sins and evil spirits of the old year are destroyed – which is similar to Ecuadorian tradition – and will make way for good fortune in the upcoming year. Evil spirits are said to be afraid of noise and light, so the fire crackers also help drive them away in that respect.

Fire is clearly seen as a cleanser all over the world, since aside from Panama and Ecuador, some parts of Scotland (notably the village of Stonehaven) also hold bonfire ceremonies, where townsmen parade while swinging giant fireballs on poles overhead. These fireballs symbolize the sun, and are meant to purify the coming year.

  1. Day of Silence – Bali
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The Melasti Ceremony before Nyepi, where objects in temples are purified in the sea. (Photo: baliaround.com)

When most people think of New Year’s celebrations, they think of loud crowds, music, and general rowdiness. That’s not entirely the case for the Balinese, however, as the crowning point to their six-day New Year’s celebrations is a day dedicated to utter silence. This day is called Nyepi, meaning ‘to keep silent’ and falls on the spring equinox. On Nyepi, the entire island is “closed” – the roads are off limits to everyone (including pedestrians), the airport is closed, and every single shop is closed. Basically anything other than being indoors is restricted, and even while indoors everyone must ensure that all noise and light is at a minimum. There is even a Nyepi Police, known as Pecalang, which is deployed all over the island to ensure this is the case.

Why no noise? After the boisterous celebrations of the first two days (the New Year’s celebrations go on for six days in total), there is a myth that the island must go into hiding to protect itself from evil spirits. Enveloped in complete tranquility, the demons are supposed to be fooled into thinking the land is deserted. Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens.

  1. Beating Up Your Relatives (It’s Lots of Fun) – Peru
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It looks friendly… but is it? It probably is. Let’s hope it is. (Photo: abc.net.au)

Peru takes the phrase ‘tough love’ to a whole new level in their New Year’s celebrations. Takanakuy is a centuries-old festival that was originally designed to settle legal disputes in the city of Santo Tomas. Essentially, indigenous Andean citizens of the Chumbivilcas Province beat the tar out of their opponents as a method of celebration and a way to settle disputes. It’s not just for men – women and children participate in Takanakuy as well. There are even rules to keep it from getting out of hand:

  1. No biting or kicking a grounded opponent.
  2. There is a referee figure equipped with a whip to keep things straight. On the plus side, the whip is colourful and very festive.
  3. Local police are on standby.

Even though it’s so violent, Takanakuy is considered a joyous festival, with lots of music and dance (not to mention alcohol). There is even a kind of uniform – belts with colorful ski masks and sometimes stuffed animals worn as hats.

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Good old confetti rave party. (Photo: udayavani.com)

Those were 5 random New Year’s customs around the world that aren’t as widely known as your traditional fireworks and New Year’s Eve parade. The transition from one year to the next is a special moment for billions around the world, so of course there are special customs to honour that. The New Year is fast approaching, so consider trying a few of these out for yourself. Maybe use something other than a whip to keep the Takanakuy participants in check, though.

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