The 11 Strangest Colombian New Year Traditions

Colombian New Year | © Epic Fireworks / Flickr
Colombian New Year | © Epic Fireworks / Flickr
Photo of Chris Bell
26 October 2017

Every country has its own distinctive New Year’s Eve traditions, and Colombia is no different – the country has some truly unique (and perhaps quite strange) New Year’s customs. From eating 12 grapes to stuffing your pockets with lentils, here are the 11 strangest Colombian New Year traditions.

Eating 12 grapes at midnight

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve it is traditional in Colombia to eat one grape per chime – so 12 grapes in all – and make a wish each time you eat a grape! So you’ll need to have 12 grapes ready and 12 wishes already prepared in order to ring in the New Year Colombian-style. And, trust us, downing 12 grapes in 12 seconds is no easy feat! Just try to make sure they’re seedless.

Just grab 12 and you're ready for Colombian New Year | © Noël Zia Lee / Flickr

Wearing yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve

In order to guarantee an upcoming year of love and happiness, it is traditional to see in the New Year while wearing a brand-new pair of yellow underwear (and they have to be new, or it won’t work). Some people even suggest that, in order to maximise the effect, you need to wear them reversed before midnight, then turn them around afterwards.

Filling your pockets with lentils

This one supposedly has its origins in Europe and involves stuffing your pockets full of lentils– it doesn’t matter what colour – on the 31st in order to guarantee that the following year is a bountiful one – most of these customs involve preparing for a successful year to come, and this one is no different.

NB: remember to use dried lentils for this one | © Robert Judge / Flickr

Taking your suitcase around the block

If you really want your New Year to be 12 months of travel and adventure then you’ll need to have your suitcase ready (and it can be empty) at midnight: simply take it on a leisurely stroll around the block and your year is guaranteed to be full of travel (or you could just reserve one of your 12 grape wishes for travelling instead and save yourself the walk).

Cash in hand at New Year

If you want financial security and stability in the upcoming year then make sure you aren’t penniless as the clock strikes twelve; having some hard cash either in your hand or your pocket is another Colombian New Year tradition. In essence you need to be surrounded by all the things you want to have next year.

With this much cash in hand, it's bound to be a good New Year! | © Edgar Zuniga Jr. / Flickr

Cleaning your house on December 31st

Get the duster and brush out on the 31st if you want to ensure that you leave all negative thoughts and bad memories behind and start the New Year with a clean slate – it’s traditional to give your house a thorough clean on the final day of the year to make sure that all those bad energies are a thing of the past. This tradition differs slightly from the rest, in that it involves casting off the bad things of the past year, rather than preparing for good things in the year to come.

Burning the ‘old year’ doll

This one is quite similar to burning the Guy on Bonfire Night, a doll-like effigy is prepared – which is named Año Nuevo or New Year – and stuffed with fireworks. At the stroke of midnight, Colombians set fire to the doll, which duly explodes and burns, therefore symbolically burning the Old Year and all that it represents.

Looks sweet now, but it'll be on fire come midnight | © Andreuchis / Flickr

Put your right foot forward

In order to fill your New Year with positive vibes and ensure that you make nothing but good decisions, then the first step you should take after midnight will be with your right foot. It can also be quite fun to try and push your friends and family on to their left food after the clock strikes twelve – sorry Dad, a negative year for you!

Taking a bath in the river

This tradition is only really celebrated in the Valle del Cauca region and the city of Cali – early in the morning on the 31st, people head to the Pance River just outside the city, and wash themselves with soap (if you can’t make it to the river, you wash at home with sea salt). This apparently rids the body of bad energies for the year to come.

Not a bad spot for a New Year bath | © yonolatengo / Flickr

Wheat on the table

When Colombians dress their table in preparation for the New Year, it’s traditional to make sure that the table is decorated with shafts of wheat – generally, 12 is the right number. By doing this, they ensure that the New Year will be bountiful and there will be an abundance of food to eat.

Spending it with your family?!

For cultures used to spending New Year’s Eve partying with friends at a nightclub, this tradition might seem the strangest of all: it’s far more traditional in Colombia to spend New Year’s Eve in the company of your family, with a big dinner and a few drinks. If people do head out, it tends to be after midnight.

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