New Year’s traditions around the world include wearing yellow underwear for luck

My New Year’s Eves tend to be quiet, introspective nights at home. I do not like large, raucous crowds, nor am I much of a drinker. So instead I typically find a long, classic film on TCM (anything from My Fair Lady to Ben-Hur) and I fastidiously get to work on my calendars. Even in the midst of our digital age, I’m steadfastly clinging to wall calendars (one large for the kitchen, one mini for the bathroom) and a weekly engagement planner. And I force myself to wait until December 31 to fill in each of these with handwritten notes of birthdays, anniversaries, and other upcoming events for the next year. What really amps up the excitement for me is choosing the best colored pens to complement the image for each month or week’s page. I swear it’s not as sad as it sounds. But that’s just me! Good Housekeeping has done a timely roundup of New Year’s rituals observed around the world. It’s a fun, long list, and here are a few that really tickled my fancy:

The iconic ball drop, twists optional: Crowds have been gathering in New York City’s Times Square to watch the ball drop since 1907. And while the first one was just iron and wood, today you can watch a 12-foot, 11,875-pound geodisc sphere covered in 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and 32,256 LEDs make its descent, even from the warmth and comfort of your own home. Or, you can see something else fall as a visual countdown to the new year: Plymouth, Wisconsin hosts a Big Cheese Drop; Kennett Square, PA uses a giant mushroom and New Orleans drops a fleur de lis (formerly a big gumbo pot). No matter what symbol is used, it does make for a dramatic countdown.

Do not try this without community consent: In Denmark, broken dishes are a good thing: people go around breaking dishware on the doorsteps of their friends and family. The more shards there are in front of your home the next day, the luckier and more well liked you are (unless you’re the one who has to sweep them all up). But try to keep it on the doorstep: “I once threw a cup at my friend’s house,” a reveler told the University of Copenhagen’s University Post. “The cup didn’t break — his window did!”

Deck the halls with boughs of… onions: To Greeks, onions are a symbol of good luck and fertility, because they sprout even when no one is paying attention to them. On New Year’s Eve, families in Greece hang bundles of onions above their doors as a means of inviting that prosperity into the home. On New Year’s Day, parents also wake up their children by gently bonking their kids on the head with the onions that were outside.

Happy moo year: Walloon and Flemish farmers in Belgium make sure everyone can get in on the festivities, and that includes the livestock. They rise early on January 1 to wish a “Happy New Year” to all the cows, horses, pigs, chickens and other farm animals. That way, they’ll have a good farming year.

Peppermint piggies: In upstate New York, they sell special peppermint pigs all throughout the holiday season. Everyone gets to take a turn hitting it with a special candy-size hammer and eating a piece for good fortune in the coming year. The peppermint is very strong, so only take a small piece. At least you’ll start the year with fresh breath!

The new year hinges on underwear color: Certain countries, especially in Latin America, believe that the color of your underwear can bring good things to you in the next 12 months. Yellow is for luck, red is for love and white undies bring peace. And for heaven’s sake, make sure they’re clean and free of holes!

Another variety of smashing at the front door: In Turkey, pomegranates are symbols of abundance. Eating them is great, sure — but if you really want a good 2024, you’ll smash the fruit on your doorstep. The more pieces there are and the farther they spread, the more prosperous you’ll be. For a little extra luck, try sprinkling salt in front of your door to bring peace.

[From Good Housekeeping]

Argh, I totally have yellow underwear! But I didn’t bring any with me to my mother’s where I’ll be until New Year’s. Anyone know what the portents are for black or leopard-print underwear? At least I’ll be prepared with the right undies for 2025. Moving on from undergarments, I am fascinated by the Greek tradition with onions. First of all, acknowledging that “they sprout even when no one is paying attention to them” just became the second reason why onions bring tears to my eyes. It’s a lovely sentiment and I understand the symbolism. What I don’t understand is the next step of waking up your kids by whacking them with the onions. I feel like we’re missing one piece of the story of how this practice evolved, no? Or maybe not, because I couldn’t help but notice how many of these global rituals involve pretty strong undertones of violence. Breaking plates, smashing fruit, hammering peppermint pigs. And the new year is just getting started! Bless those Belgian farmers for observing a peaceable tradition. Happy Moo Year, ya filthy animals!

photos credit: Shvets productions and Victor Candiani on Pexels, Ries Bosch and Shahand Babali on Unsplash

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31 Responses to “New Year’s traditions around the world include wearing yellow underwear for luck”

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  1. Josephine says:

    A more simple and tasty tradition is to eat 12 grapes for the New Year, one with each strike of the clock at midnight. We always ate them frozen for an extra pop of fun and deliciousness. Each one brings luck for each month of the New Year. It is a Spanish tradition (I think) but my sister-in-law said it was very common in Cuba where she grew up and she’s the one that got us started on it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Here are 12 grapes and blue underwear( portugal)

  3. Seraphina says:

    My sister’s inlaws are Greek and they break pomegranates at the front door and also cut the traditional Vasilopita to see who gets the new year’s good luck coin. Never heard of the onions tradition.

    • Gi says:

      I am Greek and have never heard of the onions either.

      • Sand says:

        Just did a quick search in Greek and apparently it’s a tradition dating back to ancient times but practiced only in certain parts of the country. I have another Greek one, the first person you see on New Year’s Day or the first person who steps in your home ( right foot) affects your luck throughout the year.

    • Eurydice says:

      I’m also a Greek who has never heard of the onion thing. We have a Vasilopita and play cards all night.

      • Edogfemme says:

        I’ve lived in Denmark and never heard of, or saw the plate breaking.

        My Italian bestie is all about the red underwear for New Years and I’m trying that.

  4. SAS says:

    This is a Chinese tradition but I also follow it on the 1st Jan- NO cleaning on New Year’s Day so you don’t sweep/ wash away good luck.

    • WaterDragon says:

      This one I can really get behind. I hate cleaning.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Hmmm, I may have to revise my plan to clear up all my Christmas decorations on the 1st.

      And Kismet: I, too, am a calendarer. One for the fridge, one for my office bulletin board, a smaller one for my desk. Instead of different colored pens, I use different tiny sticky notes. And I have my pocket calendar, that I use daily & travel with, etc. That one gets written in & I keep those. I have a rubbermaid tub filled with old pocket calendars.

  5. Nancy says:

    We eat pork and sauerkraut on NY day as per my Mom’s German family tradition and just after midnight on NYE we eat pickled herring as well. Both of these things are supposed to bring good luck throughout the year.

  6. Anonymous says:

    In Scotland we have a ‘first footer’, this is the first person to come to your home after midnight. They should bring a lump of coal or a bottle of booze to signify prosperity. You should also open your front and back doors to let the old year out and the new year in! And you should shake hands and wish happy new year to everyone you encounter. I mean EVERYONE. Strangers on the street, police officers, random dog walkers…. And on the first of January you should have steak pie for dinner 😁

    • Moira's Rose's Garden says:

      Well that explains the origins of what we’ve always done: The first person to walk through the door must have a dollar in his pocket.

  7. LooneyTunes says:

    What’s the black eyed peas thing? Doesn’t anyone know?

    • WaterDragon says:

      Black eyed peas cooked with salt pork and a pot of green cabbage are good luck Southern US foods. The peas for coins and the green cabbage for “folding Money”. I also make my killer cornbread muffins.

      • LooneyTunes says:

        Sounds yummy. Thank you 🙏🏾

      • Moira's Rose's Garden says:

        @WaterDragon that’s our go to menu too although as vegetarians we don’t use the salt pork. Millie Peartree’s cornbread is always a hit!

      • Giddy says:

        I’m in Texas and all my life we have done the black eyed peas tradition. Some years it is a soup, and some years it is a delicious recipe called Texas Caviar. Whichever it is, have some with jalapeño cornbread and enjoy!

    • Agreatreckoning says:

      Adrian Miller, culinary historian, attorney, James Beard award winning author, special assistant to Bill Clinton’s Initiative for One America, etc., wrote a pretty good article about the black-eyed peas tradition/history. He also shared his mother’s recipe.

      We make a black-eyed pea soup with ham and collard greens. Friends from the south introduced us to the tradition. The food blog Immaculate Bites has a number of black-eyed pea recipes.

      LOL @ Happy Moo Year, ya filthy animals!

    • Anonymous says:

      I make black eyed peas and collard greens — both with smoked pork, and rice on New Year’s Eve. (Although I usually make these dishes with smoked turkey.). The peas are for good luck, the greens are for money/ prosperity, the pork is for abundance (living “high on the hog”), and the rice is for good health. Usually something sweet is served — like candied yams or some kind of dessert— to add sweetness throughout the new year.

      My mom used to keep a few dried black eyed peas in her wallet for good luck. She also tried to have a man be the first person to enter her house in the new year. (I’m not sure why that means “good luck”. )

      When I was growing up, many people would have open house parties on New Year’s Day, and people would make “pop calls” at multiple homes, reinforcing community ties. In addition to the black eyed peas, rice, and greens, there would usually be ham, corn bread, hot rolls, candied yams, sweet potato pie, and occasionally, chitlins — which are a LOT of work to make, or spareribs.

      Some families would attend church on New Year’s Eve — and would be in the sanctuary at the stroke of midnight. This would often be followed by a meal. My family and church didn’t typically do this, but I sort of vaguely remember sleeping on a church pew, nestled in my Mom’s fur coat, when I was very small, on what MIGHT have been New Year’s Eve.

      Wishing Everyone good luck, good health and prosperity throughout the coming year!

      Oops: this is Blithe.

    • salmonpuff says:

      Mr. Puff is from Oklahoma, and his mom was appalled the first few years we were married that I didn’t make black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day. I’d never even eaten them! He finally started making them every year — our kids love the tradition and my MIL is relieved that we’re not squandering any potential luck.

      New Year’s Eve we usually have crab cakes, though this year we’re having salmon our friends sent us from Alaska. Two days of goooood eating!

  8. Amy says:

    In Venice you are supposed to wear new red underwear you received as a gift. (Maybe that’s all of Italy but I’ve just heard it for Venice.)

  9. pottymouth pup says:

    It’s a colonial New England tradition to burn a bayberry candle on Christmas and/or NY Eve for health, prosperity & good luck: “A bayberry candle burnt to the socket brings food to the larder and gold to the pocket.” (you want to light it so that it’s still burning at midnight but early enough that you can stay awake until it’s burnt out)

  10. Lady Luna says:

    We eat 12 grapes at midnight and I have my red and yellow underwear! We also like to walk outside with our luggage to manifest travel during the year.

    • blue says:

      Oh, I’m going to get my suitcase out & walk around the block! I want to go somewhere interesting this year. Never heard this before so I hope it works!

  11. Twin Falls says:

    I love getting new calendars for the year too!

  12. BlueNailsBetty says:

    We vacuum, sweep, and mop on New Year’s Eve to sweep out the past.

    On New Year’s Day we make Hoppin’ John and cornbread.

    I’m a rideshare driver so I’ll be driving NYE and wearing my favorite green shirt (money, prosperity), lots of bling (to bring in beauty and fun), and carrying a dollar in my pocket (abundance and money).

    I don’t have yellow undies but yellow is my color of the year for 2024. My word of the year is Action. My mantra is “every day I chip away”.

  13. Huggy says:

    I never eat chicken on new years day because it means you will be scratching for money all year long!

  14. Kkat says:

    My husband is Danish, and I’ve been to his family a number of times in Danmark during the holidays.
    (We’re in Southern California)

    Besides the INSANE amount of fireworks ( a street will go in together and pay 50k to 100k or more! on massive fireworks, lots of big rockets)
    The next day you usually can’t mail anything because all the mailboxes have been blown up :p
    I’m not exaggerating, all of them. and he was so matter of fact about it lol

  15. GermanCoffeeGirl says:

    In my area of Germany, it’s considered bad luck to leave laundry hanging on NYE into the new year, so I made sure to take down all my laundry before New Year’s Eve (it’s not super common to have a dryer here, so I hang up my laundry to dry).