New Year Absurdities and Superstitions in Italy

Celebrating New Year in Italy means unforseen dangers, naughty secrets and disappointing food – ready?!

1.Money, Money, Food

Home of sophisticated pesce crudo, handmade pasta and succulent cured meats, for their special New Year dinner Italians choose … lentils. Apparently this flat, round, goldish coloured pulse resembles coins, with a bit of imagination, and so brings prosperity in the New Year. Furthermore, the more you eat the more cash you gain. Perhaps chocolate coins have the same gold giving properties then?

2.Grape Sorcery

Those luxurious lentils should be followed by a rich, elaborate dessert of… grapes. These symbolise abundance and you are supposed to eat 12 in order to cover every month of the coming year. However, if one grape is a little sour it is probably trying to warn you that that month will bring dark days, so pay attention to each that you eat. I suppose 12 sips of wine wouldn’t do the trick?

(Apparently in Spain they have a similar tradition but have to eat the 12 grapes in time to the 12 chimes of midnight. If you don’t choke and die you will have luck in the new year.)

3.Thou Must Not Eat…

There are also, of course, some foods which resonate disastrously in the new year and which therefore must be avoided like the plague on New Year’s Eve. These include crab, because it scuttles sideways and therefore does not signify progression, and anything that once flew because thus all your luck will fly away. No endless turkey leftovers for the Italians then.

4.Secret Weapon

Love Actually‘s most hated character knew all about the power of red underwear (and devil horns at Christmas – why?) but wore it a little early for Italian tradition. Supposedly it is worn on New Year’s Eve following a Roman tradition of wearing red undies to banish fear of blood and war. I can’t imagine the kind of red underwear sported by Italian women these days conjures up connotations of war and strength though.

5.Mind Yer Heid!

Italians take the adage ‘out with the old’ literally meaning the streets of certain cities become rather perilous at midnight. Particularly in Naples, as the clock strikes people throw old, unwanted and disused objects (not including grandmas) from their windows into the street below, as a way to rid their lives of all the negativity from the previous year and make way for new and beautiful things. I’ve heard tales of washing machines launched from 3rd floor flats and sofas squeezed out living room windows. They say Naples is dangerous for tourists because of pick pockets but I’d say this tradition ought to be in guide books to avoid some awkwardly humorous headlines.

More widespread and deriving from a similar superstition is the tradition of smashing plates. Again they can be launched from windows or merely thrown against a wall in the house. Seems a good way to relieve tension after spending too much time with family over Christmas.

Disclaimer: Many of these traditions are rather like us Scottish eating haggis on New Year’s Eve or First Footing, visiting friends at midnight to have a wee dram, – we like to amuse the rest of the world by claiming them as ritual but in reality they are rarely practiced. The most widespread New Year’s traditions in Italy now are fireworks, parties, getting drunk and losing all your friends by 3am.

10 thoughts on “New Year Absurdities and Superstitions in Italy

  1. Loved reading about the NY’s traditions practiced here in Italy. It’s funny that you mentioned #2 with the grapes. My family actually does the same thing to bring in the New Year as a cultural tradition, and they are not even Italian! Haha, they are from El Salvador in Central America. I think some European cultures and Latin cultures mix and have lots of similarities. I did hear of the red undies one but didn’t see it practiced with my own two eyes, thank goodness.

    Liked by 1 person

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