15 New Year's Superstitions From Around the World

IsaacRuiz/iStock via Getty Images Plus
IsaacRuiz/iStock via Getty Images Plus

From America to Australia, everyone wants to start the New Year off on the right foot. Here are 15 rituals from around the world that are said to ensure a forthcoming year filled with happiness, prosperity, love, and adventure.

1. Latin America // Carry Around an Empty Suitcase

In many Latin American countries, New Year's revelers with a case of wanderlust will set an empty suitcase by their front door (or even drag it around a room in circles, or around the block) to conjure an upcoming year filled with adventure and travel.

2. Spain // Eat 12 Grapes at Midnight

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Some people guzzle sparkling wine at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but in Spain (and in some Latin American countries, too), they stick with grapes until the clock is done striking the hour. They’ll gobble 12 bits of fruit—one grape for each stroke of midnight—to ensure the next 12 months will be filled with luck.

3. Argentina // Eat Beans

In Argentina, beans aren't just prized for their fiber content—they’re also considered to be a lucky New Year’s Eve dish. Eating them right before midnight is said to provide job security for the coming year—perhaps the most responsible tradition on this list.

4. Belarus // Have a Rooster Predict Your Love Life

In Belarus, single women looking for lasting love sit in a circle, each with a pile of corn in front of her. A rooster is placed in the circle’s center, and the woman whose grain heap it pecks at first is believed to be the first of the bunch to get married.

5. China // Clean the House (But Watch Which Way You Sweep the Dirt)

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The Chinese New Year (known as the "Spring Festival") corresponds with the turn of the lunar-solar Chinese calendar, and technically isn’t celebrated until late January to mid- February. But just like in many Western countries, the occasion is marked with numerous traditions and superstitions. One good-luck custom is to clean your home from top to bottom as a way to usher out the prior year. But to ensure the good luck doesn’t accidentally get pushed out along with the bad, people sweep the home inward, collect the dirt, and dispose of it out the back door instead of the front one. And during the first two days of the New Year, homemakers aren’t supposed to clean their dwellings at all, to avoid sweeping away any lingering fortune.

6. Denmark // Throw Broken Dishes at Your Neighbor’s House

Most people toss broken dishes into the trash, but in Denmark, they dispose of them in a much more creative fashion. They save them, and on New Year’s Eve, they toss the shards at their friends’ and family’s homes as a gesture of good luck. (No word on whether they volunteer to clean up the mess after.) Danes (and Germans) with less-pugnacious personalities—or simply weaker throwing arms—can opt to leave a heap of broken china on doorsteps, instead.

7. Romania // Perform a Ceremonial Bear Dance

In Romania's eastern Moldova region, villagers dress in real bearskins and dance up and down the streets to ward off bad luck. The ritual takes place each year, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and stems from an ancient Roma tradition.

8. The American South // Eat Black-Eyed Peas

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In America, many Southern families eat a festive New Year’s Day dinner of collard greens, pork, and black-eyed peas—a type of legume with a distinctive black spot on its cream-colored shell. The latter dish is said to bring good luck (and whoever finds a coin hidden in the beans’ serving pot will have the most of it). Nobody quite knows where this tradition originated, but some people say it began after the Civil War, when Union soldiers stole all Confederate food supplies aside from black-eyed peas (thus making them “lucky”). Another theory is that Sephardic Jews—who settled Georgia during the 18th century—ate black-eyed peas to ring in the New Year, and brought the tradition with them to America.

9. South Africa // Toss Furniture Out the Window

In Johannesburg, South Africa, locals who live in the city’s Hillbrow neighborhood toss old furniture out the windows, or off their balconies. Presumably, this act symbolizes shedding the old for the new, and embracing the promise of a new year. (Sadly, people have been injured from this practice, and the police have gotten involved, so think twice before emulating this one.)

10. Estonia // Eat Multiple Meals

In Estonia, people eat seven to 12 meals on New Year’s Day to provide them with the strength of seven to 12 men. (They then, presumably, take seven to 12 food coma-induced naps.)

11. Finland/Scandinavia // Pour Melted Tin Into Water

In some Nordic countries, like Finland, people melt tin horseshoes, then pour the resulting liquid into cold water and watch it swirl into a new, solid form. The shape it makes is said to predict what kind of year you’ll have.

12. Brazil // Toss White Flowers and Gifts Into the Ocean

Many Brazilians believe that giving gifts to Yemanja, an Afro-Brazilian ocean spirit, on New Year’s Eve will give them newfound vitality and strength. They travel to Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, and toss white flowers and other offerings into the waves.

13. Ecuador // Burn a Scarecrow

To New Year's Eve revelers in Ecuador, a scarecrow serves as a symbol for the previous year’s bad energy. They burn the straw effigy to promote a fresh, positive start to the year.

14. Scotland // The Year’s First Guest Brings You Gifts

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In Scotland, the first person to cross your home’s threshold in the New Year is required to bring you an assortment of symbolic gifts: a coin, salt, bread, coal, and whiskey.

15. The Philippines // Make Lots of Noise

New Year's Eve is typically rowdy in most cultures, but people in the Philippines make lots of noise. To scare off evil spirits, they bang together pots and pans, set off fireworks, and even shoot guns into the air.

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11 Things You Might Not Know About Reindeer

Britain's only herd of free-ranging reindeer live in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park.
Britain's only herd of free-ranging reindeer live in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park.
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Beyond their sled-pulling capabilities and discrimination against those with red noses, what do you really know about reindeer?

1. Reindeer and caribou are the same thing.

Historically, the Eurasian reindeer and American caribou were considered to be different species, but they are actually one and the same: Rangifer tarandus. There are two major groups of reindeer, the tundra and the woodland, which are divided according to the type of habitat the animal lives in, not their global location. The animals are further divided into nine to 13 subspecies, depending on who is doing the classification. One subspecies, the Arctic reindeer of eastern Greenland, is extinct.

2. Reindeer have several names.

Reindeer comes from the Old Norse word hreinin, which means "horned animal.” Caribou comes from Canadian French and is based on the Mi'kmaq word caliboo, meaning “pawer” or "scratcher," in reference to the animal’s habit of digging through the snow for food.

3. Santa’s reindeer are most likely R. tarandus platyrhynchus, a subspecies from Svalbard.

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Clement C. Moore’s poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” introduced the world to Santa’s reindeer and describes them as "tiny." The only reindeer that could really be considered tiny are the Svalbard subspecies, which weighs about half as much as most reindeer subspecies and are at least a foot shorter in length. That may prove useful when landing on roofs.

Strangely, you’ll almost never see these guys in depictions of Santa. Live-action films usually use full-sized reindeer and animations usually draw the creatures as a cross between a white-tailed deer and a reindeer.

4. It’s not always easy to tell the sex of a reindeer.

In most deer species, only the male grows antlers, but that’s not true for most reindeer. Although the females in certain populations do not have antlers, many do. During certain times of year, you can still tell the sex of a reindeer by checking for antlers. That’s because males lose their antlers in winter or spring, but females shed theirs in the summer.

5. Santa’s reindeer may or may not be female.

Since reindeer shed their antlers at different points of the year based on their sex and age, we know that Santa’s reindeer probably aren't older males, because older male reindeer lose their antlers in December and Christmas reindeer are always depicted with their antlers. Female Svalbard deer begin growing their antlers in summer and keep them all year. That means Santa’s sled either has to be pulled by young reindeer, constantly replaced as they start to age, or Santa’s reindeer are female.

6. Reindeer were originally connected to Santa through poetry.

Before Moore wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (a.k.a. “The Night Before Christmas”) in 1823, no one thought about reindeer in conjunction with Santa Claus. Moore introduced the world to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (the last two of which were later changed from Dutch to German, becoming Donner and Blitzen). While the first six names all make sense in English, the last two in German mean “thunder” and “flash,” respectively.

As for little Rudolph, he wasn’t introduced until catalog writer Robert L. May wrote a children’s book in verse for his employer, Montgomery Ward, in 1939 titled “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

7. Reindeer are the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light.

Humans can see light in a range of wavelengths, from about 700 nanometers (in the red spectrum) to 400 nanometers (in the violet spectrum). Reindeer can see light to 320 nanometers, in the ultraviolet (UV) range. This ability lets reindeer see things in the icy white of the Arctic that they would otherwise miss—kind of like viewing the glow of a white object under a blacklight. Things like white fur and urine are difficult, even impossible, for humans to see in the snow, but for reindeer, they show up in high contrast.

8. Reindeer evolved for life in cold, harsh environments.

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Life in the tundra is hard, but reindeer have it easy-ish thanks to their amazing evolutionary enhancements. Their noses are specially adapted to warm the air they breathe before it enters their lungs and to condense water in the air, which keeps their mucous membranes moist. Their fur traps air, which not only helps provide them with excellent insulation, but also keeps them buoyant in water, which is important for traveling across massive rivers and lakes during migration.

Even their hooves are special. In the summer, when the ground is wet, their foot pads are softened, providing them with extra grip. In the winter, though, the pads tighten, revealing the rim of their hooves, which is used to provide traction in the slippery snow and ice.

9. some reindeer migrate longer distances than any other land mammal.

A few populations of North American reindeer travel up to 3100 miles per year, covering around 23 miles per day. At their top speed, these reindeer can run 50 mph and swim at 6.2 mph. During spring, herd size can range from 50,000 to 500,000 individuals, but during the winter the groups are much smaller, when reindeer enter mating season and competition between the bucks begins to split up the crowds. Like many herd animals, the calves learn to walk fast—within only 90 minutes of being born, a baby reindeer can already run.

10. Reindeer play an important role in Indigenous cultures.

In Scandinavia and Canada, reindeer hunting helped keep Indigenous peoples alive, from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods all the way through modern times. In Norway, it is still common to find reindeer trapping pits, guiding fences, and bow rests dating from the Stone Age. And in Scandinavia, reindeer is still a popular meat, sold in grocery stores in fresh, canned, and dried forms. Almost all of the animal’s organs are edible and many are crucial ingredients of traditional dishes in the area. In North America, Inuit rely on caribou for traditional food, clothing, shelter, and tools.

11. Reindeer used to live farther south.

Reindeer now live exclusively in the northern points of the globe, but when Earth was cooler and humans were less of a threat, their territory was larger. In fact, reindeer used to range as far south as Nevada, Tennessee, and Spain during the Pleistocene area. Its habitat has shrunk considerably in the last few centuries. The last caribou in the contiguous United States was removed to a Canadian conservation breeding program in 2019.

As for how Santa's nine reindeer manage to fly while pulling a sled carrying presents for every child in the whole world, science still hasn’t worked that out.