After 365 days of memorable adventures and exciting experiences, it is time to bid farewell to the old and welcome the new year! As the world unites in this celebration, the streets of Portugal, Spain and Italy echo timeless superstitions and traditions, where even the food you eat dictates the luck you will have in the forthcoming months.
Come along with us on an exploration of the different ways these three destinations celebrate New Year’s and dare to take part in these fascinating and exciting customs!
Welcoming the new year involves the loud noise and colourful hues of fireworks. These displays cover the night skies across Europe with the most fascinating shapes and movements. In other celebrations, fireworks can symbolize pride or achievement. For Italians, but also Portuguese and Spanish, these started to be used as a way to scare away bad spirits one wishes to get rid of in the new year.
On this day, pyrotechnic shows are taken to another level. The more exuberant, the better! Madeira Island is known for having a Guinness World Record for the biggest and one of the most beautiful fireworks displays to see. In Madrid, Puerta del Sol gains a new life. Thousands of people gather in this popular location to participate in a spectacle of colour and joy.
Making some noise
In ancient pagan culture, making noise was a crucial part of the rituals that aimed at purifying the atmosphere and ridding it of evil spirits. This superstition has permeated into the cultures of Europe’s southern countries, namely Portugal, Spain and Italy, where the idea of noise has permeated its way into the New Year’s celebrations.
One way to abide by this tradition is to bang pans against each other, shout, or just simply open a bottle of champagne with all your might. Others may opt for more musical choices, such as drums and whistles, and more. It is all about creativity!
Special meals for the occasion
Across cultures, New Year’s is universally perceived as a noteworthy celebration that calls a special meal. Families gather to carefully select dishes to symbolize the transition to a new chapter filled with memories. From the meat to the vegetables, every food you consume might dictate your luck in the upcoming year!
In Portugal, the New Year’s Eve meal is centred around bacalhau, seafood or pork meat recipes. Tradition in the country says not to eat poultry if you wish your happiness not to fly away. “Caldo Verde” is one of the night’s main attractions; this soup made from potatoes, kale, garlic, and chorizo is a year-round favourite that makes its way into most tables on this special night.
Zampone and Lentils
Pig’s trotter and lentils, also known as zampone e lenticchie, is the main dish of an Italian New Year’s Eve dinner. This combination is a product of time-honoured Roman superstitions, which have persevered through time. The meat’s fat symbolises abundance, while the healthy, rich nutrients of lentils and their coin-shaped format are associated with good luck and prosperity.
Sweeter teeth find solace in Spain’s traditional New Year’s breakfast with hints of chocolate and sugar. After a long night of partying and eating, the following day is welcomed by the popular churros con chocolate. This delicacy made of fried dough is eaten at home or a local café and is dipped in warm and creamy hot chocolate.
Coloured underwear for luck
Red, green, white, yellow… Every colour on the rainbow has a special meaning on this holiday. You just have to choose the one that best represents your wishes for the upcoming year. This is one further step into ensuring the new chapter will be filled with joy and good memories.
Even though other colours have meaning in Portugal, blue is practically a consensus. Tradition demands people to use a fresh new pair of underwear of this colour to bring health into the new year.
If you want to fall in love or just have good luck, then, red underwear is the way to go! In Spain, this colour is associated with passion and emotion, signifying almost a call for love. On the other hand, Italian culture rooted in the Roman period associates this strong hue with the red tunics gladiators and soldiers used in battle. For them, it is a symbol of strength and love!
Raisins or grapes at midnight
The holiday season boasts an array of treats, including fruits and nuts. Some of these are particularly associated with the moment the clock hits midnight. As the fireworks colour the night sky and the church bells ring, one has to eat 12 grapes or raisins, one for each month of the new year. This simple act is a crucial part of New Year’s Night as it is tightly knit into the belief of bringing good luck.
Why eat grapes or raisins and not another fruit? In these wine-producing countries exists a consensus that both grapes and raisins are staple foods. Their flavourful taste has been, since ancient times, a symbol of health and prosperity.
The second most popular tradition on New Year’s Eve, after the fireworks, is the midnight toast. With the raisins on one hand and a flute of champagne on the other, entering the new year in Europe is a feast of flavours. Since the early days of its production, sparkling wine, or champagne, is thought to bring vitality and health (common wishes in the holiday season). The final step of this ritual is clicking your glass against that of your loved ones and wishing them a “Happy New Year!”.
For extra luck, wealth and good fortune, Spanish people drop a gold ring or coin into their glass of traditional Cava. It is customary to see married couples specifically put their wedding bands into their champagne. This way, they’re wishing a long life to their union.
What countries do differently
Dip in the ocean
Waving blue waters are a big part of Portugal’s identity as a coastal country. With its Mediterranean warm climate, the proximity to the lush fresh air of the Atlantic Ocean is a privilege both locals and travellers appreciate. Considering its importance, the beach is a popular site on New Year’s Day.
Across the country, people flock to the shore to have a dip in the ocean. This perceived ritual has been rooted in Portuguese culture for a while, because of the belief that the water has purifying healing powers that can bring health for the new year. Take part in this tradition and visit some of the most popular spots, such as the beaches in Cascais, Algarve and even the Azores!
Out with the old, in with the new
As soon as the clock strikes midnight, it is time to let go of the past and embrace the adventures of the new year! It can be as simple as throwing away those clothes you have not worn in a long time or putting in the bin any furniture, pots and pans that need replacing. The truth is that the act of confronting the past and physically throwing it away acts as almost a rite of passage; a physical way of letting go of the old year. The next day, it is time to go out to the markets or shopping centres and buy new things!
Even though putting your items in a bin might be one way to do it, be careful when passing Italian residential buildings on this day. Especially in the southern cities, there is the custom of opening the windows of one’s home and throwing unwanted items onto the streets! This is usually done at midnight.
Opening the windows
In the Spanish Andalusian region, windows also play a big part in the New Year’s traditions. The act of opening this part of your home indicates that you are allowing the energy of the past twelve months to float away while welcoming new lucky vibes. As the weather is not so cold in the country’s Mediterranean south, this tradition has persevered through time even in the big cities. If you’re passing by Seville and Granada, you might see this superstition come alive!
On this day, Italians add another element to this festivity. Fig gifting has been an important part of this celebration. Since the times of the mighty Roman Empire, Italians have been offering jars of dates and figs in honey for good fortune. This tradition is seen today in cities like dazzling Naples, where one still offers this fruit wrapped in laurel leaves with the hope of an upcoming sweet new year.
So, in case you are in Italy on New Year’s Eve and recognise this tradition, join in and take part in a portion of this country’s rich culture.
Welcoming the new year
The spirit of celebration knows no borders or cultures. The New Year’s Eve is almost a universal event marked by tradition, food packed with symbolism and, of course, a favourable dosage of superstition. Whether you find yourself in Portugal’s vibrant streets, the cosmopolitan squares of Spain or on Italy’s historical lanes, you will notice a common thread of shared customs you will want to try yourself! So, why not not start the new year by travelling to these fascinating destinations?