New Year in Latin America: Customs and Superstitions

Each color has a belief attached to it

Brasilia: Año Nuevo in Spanish or Ano Novo in Portuguese means New Year in Latin America. New Year’s Eve is without a doubt one of the most celebrated and preferred parties for Latin Americans. Each county has its own customs and traditions for welcoming in the New Year. The New Year’s Eve party holds special charm for Latin Americans, who celebrate the coming year with different customs and superstitions. Brazilians dress in white and make offerings to Iemajá (Goddess of water and seas, equivalent to Virgin Mary in Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion) on New Year’s Eve and pray for peace, love or simply money, but other superstitions, like eating grapes and lentils, are also customs in several countries in Latin America.

One of the most important aspects of the New Year celebrations are the rituals meant to attract good luck for the upcoming year. On the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, thousands of people throw flowers and offerings into the waters or skip over seven waves (usually the first seven of the year) to have their wishes granted in the coming year.

Skipping over waves in Rio de Janeiro

In Santiago, Chile, everyone wears yellow-colored or red-colored underwear and lingerie. The belief is that yellow panties will bring wealth and money. For them, yellow represents the golden rays of goodness and prosperity. While Red helps in passion, love and romance. Chile is not the only country to practice this tradition of wearing colored underwear, it is also observed in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador, mainly to attract wealth. In Uruguay and Argentina, lingerie should preferably be pink to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, while in Venezuela it is crucial to wear new clothes.

These are some of the Latin American customs linked to celebrating the New Year, but one of the most common is to eat lentils at the New Year’s Eve dinner and have 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the new year. In several countries in the region, it is also recommended to wander around the neighborhood at midnight with a suitcase: this will grant all travel wishes in the New Year. In Uruguay, people are accustomed to throwing buckets of water on the street and house entrance to clear the way for the arrival of the New Year. To ensure good luck in the New Year, Colombians put potatoes under their bed.

Burning of effigies in Ecuador

In Peru and Ecuador, they burn effigies of the most rejected personalities, of the year, by the population, an indigenous custom believed to bring just law in the New Year. But in general, most of these customs were brought from Europe by the Portuguese and the Spanish. This is particularly the case of swallowing twelve grapes at midnight, a typical Spanish habit. Eating lentils on New Year’s Eve is a tradition that also came from Europe. It was customary to eat this high-calorie protein-rich dish to prepare the body for the winter while in Latin America the New Year happens in summer.