Written by: Laura Oviedo-Guzmán

People seem surprised when I tell them that New Years’ Eve is my favourite holiday. Is the kiss at midnight that sets my passion for this occasion alight? No. Is it reminiscing Green Day’s performance on the Carson Daly show in 2010? Close, but no cigar. I love New Years’ Eve because of the traditions my family follows before, during, and after the clock strikes twelve. Like a good Colombian woman, who is exorbitantly proud of my heritage, I love any chance I get to talk about my country’s celebrations. Here are some of the traditions I’m most fond of, which earn me weird looks from others when I share what we do.

Yellow Panties

We’re going to start with your base layer, your underwear! We Colombians buy a new pair of yellow underwear to wear on the night of December 31st, as we ring on the first day of the new year, to attract prosperity and good luck. The underwear has to be unique if you want to reap the benefits of this superstition. You don’t want the new year catching you in some dirty, old pair of undies, as that entices the opposite of good fortune. Your drawls must also be yellow since this is a color related to gold so that you can attract money. It is also a color related to the Sun, which is associated with Earth’s life-giving energy, meaning that the wearer of this color will feel revitalized as they step into the new year. This custom isn’t exclusive to Colombians. Many Latin American countries also participate in the donning of yellow underpants. One year, my Colombian aunt was offered an obscene amount of money by a Venezuelan man outside of Victoria’s Secret in Calgary after the man hadn’t been able to find any yellow underpants for his family. My aunt, a lover of tradition and firm esoteric enjoyer refused and brought the fruits of her search home to us. Unfortunately, the origins of this custom are unknown, although some believe it relates to pagan rituals and Victorian-era trends.

The Egg of Fortune

The Egg of Fortune is one my mom tells me to keep quiet about. She doesn’t want people to take us less seriously, but I trust y’all, and I know your FYP (For You Page) has been riddled with spells and manifestations at some point over the last two years. As the clock strikes midnight, you must crack an egg into a clear glass filled with water and leave it out. The original tradition says to place the water-egg cup under your bed, but we don’t like doing that because we want to avoid egg-related accidents. The next morning, you get to interpret the egg. This part of the tradition is called ovomancy. For example, if you see many bubbles, you’ll have a large influx of money in the new year. Different shapes mean different things, and your best bet is to go online to find a guide to read your egg. If you’re doing this activity with many people in your house, make sure you label your cup so that you can be sure the egg you’re reading will give you your fortune. Ovomancy is said to have originated in Greece. However, it was practiced across Europe, including Scotland and Spain. The Spanish practiced ovomancy on the Day of Saint John the Baptist, which falls six months before the end of the year (Pedrosa, 2014). While I could not find a source explicitly stating the origins of this tradition in Colombia it would not be so far-fetched to attribute egg-reading on New Year’s to the Spanish given my country’s history of colonization by them.  

Bountiful Pockets

There’s always a chance that I’ll find lentils in my pockets a few weeks after our New Years’ celebrations. Don’t worry! They’re raw. We believe that having lentils in your pockets ensures a financially successful new year. You can also ensure that you have dollar bills in your pockets before midnight for the same effect. One of the suspected origins of this tradition is a custom practiced in Ancient Rome, where people would gift each other small leather pouches–scarsella–filled with lentils (López, 2015). In gifting this, the hope was that the lentils would turn into gold coins for the recipient, creating the link between lentils and financial abundance. Like my Italian boyfriend says, “you can’t spell ‘Italiano’ without ‘Latino.’” 

The Five Minutes Before Song

At 11:55 pm, my aunts will yell that there are five minutes left until midnight and will play the song “Faltan Cinco ‘Pa Las Doce.” The song title translates to “5 ‘til midnight”, and although there are many versions, the most popular one is by Néstor Zavarce. A YouTube search will yield “Colombia” results in the title, misleading searchers to believe that this is solely a Colombia tradition. Mr. Zavarce is Venezuelan, so I assume that we share this tradition, like the yellow panties. When this song plays, you know it’s time to grab your grapes and grab your backpacks.

12 Grapes, 12 Wishes

Boom! It’s midnight. You’ve got the yellow undies, you got the lentils, and you wished a happy new year to the people around you. But your duties are not done yet if you want to secure a delighted new year. Now you must grab 12 grapes, which your dutiful family members have washed and portioned since December 30th, and make a wish for each one you pop into your mouth. Sometimes I run out of things to wish for, so I suggest you write out a list of twelve wishes on your phone and revisit it as you scarf down your grapes. Please chew and swallow them thoroughly because you’re about to run for your (best) life. This tradition originated in Spain, in the early 19th century, as a way to ridicule the Madrilenian bourgeoisie who celebrated New Years’ Eve by eating grapes and drinking champagne. People who were not as well off would come to the Puerta del Sol square at midnight on New Years’ to eat 12 grapes–one for each toll. (¿Cuál Es El Origen de Las Tradicionales Lentejas de Nochevieja En Italia?, n.d.) The tradition spread throughout Spain and the places it had colonized.

Run For Your Best Life

In my country, we believe that running out the door with suitcases as soon as the clock strikes twelve attracts travel in the new year. This is one of my most exciting traditions because it’s so cathartic. You’ve got all this excitement built up from the festivities, from the grapes, and now you get to book it for a cause. After you’ve safely finished your grapes and have bundled up sufficiently,  grab a travel bag–a backpack, a suitcase, anything–and you run around your block or to the end of your street. Leaving the house and going as far as you can in the new year increases the likelihood of travelling to enjoyable destinations. This tradition is best completed in the company of loved ones, so bring your friends, parents, and pets. Everyone deserves to get away. 

Final Remarks

If New Years’ has historically been drab for you, I hope that learning about my country’s customs helps you see things differently. Maybe you switch things up this year and carry lentils in your pockets to bring forth sound finances, or you crack an egg to see what’s next in your life–I permit you to adopt that. As for the yellow underwear, just treat yourself to some comfy sunshine-hued bloomers. You don’t need my permission for that.

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