In Spain, in those last final seconds of the year, many of the population will risk choking as they attempt to swallow 12 grapes in synch with the 12 chimes of the clock in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. The tradition, unique to Spain and a few Latin American countries, apparently dates from the early twentieth century. Cynics say that it was instigated by Alicante agriculturalists, desperate to get rid of a bumper harvest of grapes: somehow, they managed to convince their neighbours that eating them on the night of the 31st would bring good luck in the coming year.
In Italy, the menu is a little more mundane: the traditional New Year's Eve dinner is a dish of lentils, which are reputed to bring wealth in the coming year. The more you eat, the more wealth that will come our way: it's a cheap way to try and bring an end to the economic recession.
In Naples, the spirit of festive excess is more apparent: on the strike of twelve, the city erupts in a barrage of fireworks and firecrackers making it sound like a battleground. And a walk down the street can actually be potentially risky endeavour as there is also a new year tradition of getting rid of the old. Some people, then, in a burst of euphoria to start off the new year on the right foot, decide to dispose of the TV or the sofa and quite literally, throw them out - through the window! Which accounts for the rows of cars parked on the outskirts of the city where they hope to avoid damage.
Some Central European traditions seem a little more "civilised". The Austrians waltzing in the street in the wee small hours, the big white candles that traditionally preside over Irish households at this time of year, and our own British mistletoe that protects against demons and brings luck for the coming year. For good organisation and civic solidarity, though, the prize must go to the Swiss: for 20 years the troop of "Red Noses" have patrolled the streets on the night of the 31st like guardian angels, offering to take home the revellers who've had a drop too much and don't feel up to driving.
Some of the Nordic races certainly have a smashing time on the last night of the year: just take a look at the Danes, who go round to the homes of friends and loved ones and show their affection by throwing old plates at the door. So it's sad to get up the next morning and not be greeted by a pile of broken crockery on your doorstep.
Closer to home, the Scots are famed for their Hogmanay celebrations, of course, with celebrations into the wee small hours where fire takes centre stage. Torchlight processions wind through the streets of Edinburgh and the Scottish capital explodes in a festive atmosphere with music, street performance. And then there are those brave souls who celebrate with a chilly dip in the river, while in other towns the residents roll a burning barrel through the streets to greet the new year in time-honoured tradition.
In some Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Colombia they make a doll representing everything bad that has happened during the year and on the 31st, after giving her a good whipping so she doesn't do it again, they set her on a bonfire and burn her. In Brazil there are those who prefer to take it much more gently. On the last night of the year, the beaches are illuminated by fireworks and, on beaches such as Copacabana, before the most exuberant party begins, the devotees of Iemanja, clad in pure white, set candles on the sand and scatter flowers on the sea to curry favor with the goddess of waters.
But if your new year's resolutions include continuing to travel and explore this wonderful world, you might want to follow the tradition of some other South American countries: take an empty suitcase and, on the stroke of 12, head out the door and dash round the block with it. Your neighbours may suspect you've had a had one over the eight, but it's said the method is foolproof.
Happy New Year, then, and happy travels.
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