Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve) is the last night of the year. In some countries, it’s known as el Día de San Silvestre (Saint Sylvester’s Day), the saint after whom the San Silvestre races are named. These are sporting contests that happen on 31st December in many cities around the world. During this event, wearing comfortable sportswear is far less important than wearing an original Christmas costume.
In Spain and almost all other Spanish-speaking countries, it’s typical to see in the New Year by eating twelve lucky grapes in time with the twelve chimes of the bell. As if eating the grapes without choking wasn’t enough of a challenge, there are some people who increase the difficulty by doing it standing on their left leg so as to start their year on the ‘right foot’ and bring good luck. In Spain, the chimes are broadcast from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, while in Mexico all eyes are on the Metropolitan Cathedral in the capital.
In addition to the grapes, there are many other rituals that can be performed to bring good luck in the New Year. Some people say that you should wear red underwear, put gold jewellery in your glass of cava during dinner and put a banknote in your shoe. Eating a spoonful of lentils is also supposed to bring prosperity.
These customs don’t just take place during dinner, but throughout the whole night. In Mexico, before eating the grapes, the entire house must be swept from inside out onto the street to get rid of all dirt and impurities. In Peru, Honduras and Ecuador, they make a bonfire out of old furniture and clothes as a cleansing ritual. In Uruguay, they throw last year’s calendars out of the window to put the previous year behind them. In Columbia, people walk through the streets with suitcases in the hope that the New Year will bring lots of travel, a ritual that has been adopted in other countries like Venezuela, Panama, Chile, El Salvador and Costa Rica.
Whether it’s out of tradition or just for fun, everyone embraces these customs that accompany this special day. It’s clear that they all share one aspect that transcends borders and cultures: the desire to move forward.