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Five Traditional Italian New Year’s Eve Practices

These rituals are believed to bring good luck and wealth in the new year.

New Year’s Eve in Italy isn’t just about fireworks and concerts and flowing glasses of Prosecco,   it’s also a time to act upon a number of rituals aimed at ushering in good luck and wealth in the new year. These customs, many of which date back to the times of the Ancient Romans, are an integral part of Italian culture. Italians, a traditionally superstitious lot, believe that what you wear, what you eat and what you do on December 31 dictates the success and happiness of the coming year. 

Regardless of where you find yourself for New Year’s Eve, or Capodanno in Italian, which literally means “head of the year,” there are certain ways you can maximize your chances for good fortune in the new year.  Here are five traditional New Year’s Eve practices to ensure that you’re ringing in 2023 like an Italian.

Eat Cotechino, lentils and grapes 

Cotechino is a gelatinous pork sausage consisting of “lo zampone,” the hoof of the pig. The meat’s fattiness and rich flavor make it a symbol of abundance, especially when served with a side of “lenticchie,” or lentils. Eating lentils at the stroke of midnight is believed to bring good luck in the new year. According to some, the small, round legumes are a symbol of prosperity because they resemble ancient gold coins. Another food to consume when the clock strikes midnight is 12 grapes, one for each month of the new year, to ensure an abundance of responsibly managed wealth. In Italy, they say “chi mangia l’uva per Capodanno, maneggia i quattrini tutto l’anno,” meaning “whoever eats grapes on New Year’s Eve, will handle money all year long.” Additionally, sharing a pomegranate with a lover or partner symbolizes fertility and wealth, a belief that stems from Ancient Rome. 

 

Wear red undergarments

Italians traditionally wear new red undergarments on New Year’s Eve to aid in love and happiness. Red is a color that is believed to ward of the “malocchio,” the Evil Eye, and is therefore a symbol for prosperity and fertility. But, these red undergarments must be gifted, not purchased for oneself. In other words, if you buy yourself red underwear, it’s considered to be cheating and you will not reap any benefits. Traditionally Italians wear these new undergarments only once, on New Year’s Eve, and then throw them out once the new year has begun. 

Gift figs

In Ancient Rome, the fig was a sacred plant alongside the grape and the olive. According to Roman mythology, the twin babes Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf beneath the shade of the Ficus ruminalis, a sacred fig tree of historical times. Ovid, a Roman poet who lived during the reign of the first Roman emperor Augustus, recounted that Romans gifted relatives and friends honey and figs to wish them well in the new year. A similar tradition persists in Naples today, where figs are wrapped in laurel leaves, also symbolic of good fortune and prosperity, and gifted to friends and family. 

Throw out old objects 

An antiquated New Year’s tradition consists of quite literally tossing old pots and pans directly out of the window. Until not too long ago, this custom persisted in force in the south of Italy, where people threw objects they wanted to get rid of from their windows, balconies and rooftops and onto the streets below. The very physical, and noisy, manifestation of the old adage: out with the old and in with the new. It is believed that this ritual dates back to ancient Rome when loud noises were thought to ward off evil spirits. While Italians still throw out old objects to begin the new year afresh, it’s mostly done by just placing them in the garbage can. 

Meet someone new

In Italy, it is said that the first person you encounter on January 1 will determine the course of the new year. According to superstition, encountering an elderly person is synonymous with a long life, while meeting a hunchback is good luck. Encountering a child or a priest does not bode well for the new year.

Asia London Palomba

Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy, currently pursuing her master's in journalism at New York University (NYU). In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, and The Christian Science Monitor. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.

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