You surely have your own New Year's Eve traditions, like celebrating with noisemakers, a kiss at midnight, or watching the ball drop in Times Square. No matter where my family is, we seek out fireworks to watch to usher in the next year. We have been lucky enough to spend New Year’s Eve in several different countries around the world. Read on to learn about three of my favorite New Year's Eve traditions from Europe, hailing from Spain, Denmark and Scotland, respectively.
New Year's Eve traditions in Spain
Spain has some delightful traditions for the New Year (Nochevieja in Spanish). People wear red-colored underwear for good luck. You can’t buy yourself the underwear, however. It has to be given to you!
Of course, Spaniards also drink champagne at midnight. For good fortune in the new year, you need to drop a gold object into your champagne glass (such as a ring). Then you drink the champagne from the glass and retrieve your lucky charm.
At midnight on New Year's Eve in Spain, you should eat 12 green grapes, one for every strike of the clock. Each grape represents a month of the year and will give you good luck if you finish all 12 grapes in time. This tradition is carried out in public at the major squares in Spain's cities. My family joined the Spaniards eating grapes at the Plaza Nueva in Seville when we were there for New Year's Eve a few years back. I didn’t check to see what color underwear the Spaniards were wearing, though!
New Year's Eve Traditions in Denmark
You know how egging is considered a bad thing done by naughty tricksters on Halloween? Well, in Denmark they take throwing things at doors on New Year’s Eve to extreme lengths. The Danes save their broken plates during the year and then smash them against their friends’ doors on New Year’s Eve. The more broken crockery you have on your front step, the more popular you are.
The Queen of Denmark makes a speech, broadcasted to the Danish populace each New Year’s Eve. Then it's time for fireworks and the usual reveling. Fireworks were traditionally set off in many countries because they scared off evil spirits. Presumably the evil spirits were not sufficiently scared off by some good Danish plate throwing.
New Year's Eve Traditions in Scotland
Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve, in Scotland is taken so seriously that the second of January is a holiday as well. It takes the Scots two days to recover from the Hogmanay celebrations. Hogmanay probably has a pagan background coming from the Vikings' influence. Moreover, for about 400 years, Christmas was not celebrated in Scotland. After the Protestant Reformation, the Church of Scotland believed Christmas was a Roman Catholic festival. People only celebrated and exchanged presents at New Year. In fact, Christmas did not become a public holiday (and a day off from work) in Scotland until 1958.
Many of the old Scottish New Year's Eve traditions are still practiced all over the country. For example, right after midnight, everyone sings Auld Lang Syne, a Scottish poem turned folksong. For good luck in the new year, the first person who enters a house after midnight on New Year’s Eve in Scotland should bring a gift of whiskey and/or shortbread. There is a pecking order of luck, too, for that first person who enters. The best person to show up is a tall dark-haired man and the unluckiest is a red-headed woman.
To scare away evil spirits, many Scottish towns and cities host firework displays, torchlight processions and bonfires. The town of Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire has a unique Fireballs custom. A procession of people swing balls of fire above their heads until they reach the harbor, where they dump the fireballs into the sea. Can you guess what music is played during this fire-y calvacade? No, not Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire…it's traditional Scottish bagpipes, of course!
What are your favorite New Year's Eve traditions? Let us know in the comments below!