Life Abroad: Of Burning Dolls, Broken Dishes and a Mouthful of Grapes

by Miss Footloose

Spain: Eating twelve grapes in twelve seconds.

On New Year’s Eve, spectacular public fireworks are set off in many countries to celebrate the New Year, but there are many other fun customs and traditions to be found around the world. (This is a repost from some years ago, but things have not changed and you may have missed it.)

In many wine producing countries such as Spain, Portugal, Argentina and others, twelve grapes are eaten, one for each of the last 12 seconds of the year.

This apparently is not easy to do, so you start the year with a mouthful of grapes and you’d better not laugh and choke on them. If you somehow manage to chow down all twelve you’ll have twelve months of good luck in the New Year. The grapes are aptly called las uvas de la suerte (the grapes of good luck). You can buy them already peeled for your eating convenience.

Beach parties are de rigueur in the southern hemisphere in countries like Brazil and Australia. Australia is also famous for the stunning fireworks in Sydney harbor.

In Rio de Janeiro, along with the carnival-rivaling beach parties, there’s also the Festa de Iemanjà. Offerings of flowers, perfume, rice, and so on are made to Iemanjà, the Goddess of Water. They’re either tossed into the waves or put into small boats and set adrift.

Brazil: Offerings to Iemanja, Goddess of Water

In the USA, like everywhere else, people go partying. A major tradition is the dropping of the New Year’s Eve Ball on Times Square in New York. This event is attended by many thousands of bundled-up nutcases freezing in the arctic cold (usually), and millions of saner types who stay warm in homes or clubs and watch it on TV. At the stroke of midnight everyone kisses his or her significant other to the tunes of Auld Lang Syne.

Denmark has an old tradition, so I hear, which involves saving up all your broken glass and dishes over the year and then throwing them at your friends’ doors. The more broken dishes you find outside your own door, the more friends you have. At midnight party-goers climb on top of their chairs and then jump off to symbolize jumping into the New Year. Well, that’s what I read. Cyberspace is mysteriously devoid of photos to prove it.

In Ecuador, effigies are burned at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Photo by Bill Herndon | CC-BY-NC-ND

These dolls are made of old clothes stuffed with newspaper and have a mask for a face. If you have worries, disappointments, regrets or problems you’d like to leave behind, you can write them down on paper and stuff them inside. Handwritten notes are also pinned on the outside of the dummy stating what improvements are wished for in the new year. At midnight the effigies are burned and people dance in the street, as you can see in the photo below.

I rather like this ritual. Very symbolic. I spent a few weeks in Ecuador some years ago and really enjoyed the people and the country.

In my native Holland we have parties at home or in pubs and everyone has his own bunch of fireworks to set off in the street at midnight. This after we’ve carb-loaded with yummie greasy, sugary oliebollen.

Wherever you are, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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What are your New Year’s Eve traditions? Anything fun or exotic?  Which foreign ones have you enjoyed in your travels?

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Hi Miss Footloose! Weird – this is an old post, but I just got a notification for it. Funny too, because my Spanish friend JUST told me two days ago about the grapes tradition, I find that so cool. As for the broken dishes on the doorstep, that’s kind of weird too, because that is a GERMAN tradition too, but not for New Year’s. Instead, it is for your “Polterabend” which is the night before you get married when your friends bring you all their old dishes for good luck and shatter them. Thanks for the educational trips around the… Read more »

I love the freaky doll burning. Seems like such an easy way to get rid of disappointments and regrets. *sigh*

Hi Footloose!
Was in Spain this year for New Years but had never heard of the grapes… until we were in the city square right before midnight and looked around and everyone had grapes! We did get many pics of people with grapes stuffed in their mouths 🙂

There are also other traditions that go with the beach party in Brazil. Like the panties that Maria mentioned. And eating lentils (supposed to give you luck). And at midnight jump over 7 waves on the beach to get 7 wishes come true in the next year. They all work 😛

What a wonderful round up of traditions. I was in Spain for this New Years and didn’t do the grapes thing, but I’m not going anywhere – touch wood – so I’ll make sure to pack them in next time!

Ian has voiced my fears about those good luck grapes: I’ll bet there ARE people who manage to choke on them, which is certainly not lucky — but then choking on grapes is probably not the worst way you could go. When I was a little girl, we were allowed to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve although my parents were generally sticklers about bedtime. My mother would give us pots and pans to bang on, and we would also shout and scream while leaning on the car horn. The idea was to make the biggest racket possible.… Read more »


The festival in Rio is beautiful… We went when we lived there.
This year was spent watching the ball drop on Times Square
from our comfy couch and living room!

Happy 2011


In the UK, you’re supposed to get a good month for every mince pie you eat. Eat 12, and you’ll have a good year! That’s for New Year’s Day though.
I’ve also heard that if you are current on laundry for the New Year, you’ll stay caught up all year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR miss footloose! 🙂


The grapes sounds like a challenge but Rio’s carnival-rivaling beach parties have my vote! Here in Australia, it’s beach parties for those close enough; but nothing more traditional than lots of drinking and fireworks. Out west it’s dancing at clubs and in sheering sheds (BarnDances) and fireworks.

Great idea for an article – love it!

maria altobelli

Fun post, Miss Footloose. Here in Mexico, women love to slip on red panties at midnight which supposedly assures them of love in the coming year. If you’re more materialistic, yellow is the color of choice.

The twelve lucky grapes are also big here. I always manage to make an utter fool of myself when trying to swallow them all. Since the way you see in the new year is supposed to predict how the rest of the year unfolds, guess that explains things nicely.

All the best in 2011 to all.

guyana gyal

Nothing spectacular here. There are house parties that friends attend. Or there are ‘pay’ parties [which I think only desperate people go to]. There are the ‘balls’ for which women buy fantastically-priced dresses, go to hotels or private clubs. Lots of people stay at home.

I prefer to be with family. I’ve been to parties where there was no family and I found them lonely.

I like celebrating the next day, on Jan. 1, rather than on Dec. 31.

Nice post! I can say I’ve experienced the traditions of many countries including Rio (where many people added champagne corks and bottles to the flowers on the water), the US and Spain (where I never did manage to choke down all 12 grapes). Happy New Year to you from Lago Maggiore. May it be a good one.

Very interesting post. In Naples, people throw old furniture and utensils out of the window on New Year’s Eve! Happy New Year to you, Miss Footloose.

Hehehe, I’m sitting here with my Danish girlfriend and she’s just giving the reason why there’s no photo evidence of Danish folks throwing broken glasses and plates at each other’s doors. She’s NEVER heard of it!
Happy 2011!

Happy New Year!

An excellent summary of global New Year’s Traditions. I really do like the finality of consuming the worries in flame. Peace and Prosperity to you and yours!

Great Post! Reminded me of sitting under our friend’s table to have your first bite of New Years food. It was in Rio de Janeiro but I think that was a family tradition, not a cultural one.

It is amazing to see all the flowers in the ocean on New Years night. The first 5 feet of ocean full of flowers… Amazing site.

Hopefully I’ll get to check out all the other traditions you mentioned!

In the rural village in the Philippines where I spent 2 NYE’s, they said that whatever you’re doing right at midnight will affect your next year. Our friend Norman told his 4-year-old son to jump up into the air so that he’d grow tall over the next year. The little boy jumped, then he turned his back to relieve himself and all the men in the group made jokes about what else would grow “tall” (same word as long in Cebuano).

I think I’ve had about five oliebollens already and I’m about to eat another one! My Dutch husband and I made some for friends this year. He keeps saying that one year we’ll have to go to Holland for New Years and it’s much more fun there. He’s still not used to not being able to drink in the streets and set off fireworks here in the U.S.

NYE in Holland was like being in a war zone. We set off a ton of chinese style fireworks on the street along with half the population of the Netherlands. Had a total blast. So much better than watching Dick Clark on TV.

Happy New Year!

I do enjoy all the different kinds of traditions around the world! Hope you have an amazing year and that your book gets published! Can’t wait to read it.

Nancy Atkinson

Thanks for sharing all of these wonderful New Year’s traditions. The grape one is very cool. We stay home on New Year’s Eve – our tradition is a fondue dinner with champagne, candles and time to talk about the year behind us and look at the year ahead. When the children were small they were given fortune candles that as they burned they revealed little charms and eventually a fortune capsule. My 27 year old daughter still has hers. Happy 2011!

Fireworks and oliebollen. Too much of the first in my neighbourhood (just ask my cats) and not enough of the latter in my home (I thought I had, but I should have taken the bucket and not the plate).

The weirdest thing I ever did was that “Auld Lang Syne” thing in Britain. Never knew what it meant, what it was for and why the silly dance. Besides, it interrupted the drinking as well (I was in my early twenties then)…

Happy 2011

Sometime in the 1990s Hilary and I took Christmas and New Year in southern Spain, in the mountains, and on NYE we went into the town square, each with twelve grapes and clutching a bottle of Cava, then as the clock struck twelve, at each bong we ate a grape, and at bongs-end had a slug at the Cava. Having eaten their grapes and squirted their Cava, everyone starts chucking fireworks about. Hilary and I hid in a doorway with a dog, whose name turned out to be Hernando (Do you hear the drums, Hernando? I asked him, in a… Read more »

I can’t say that the eating grape tradition followed me from Spain to Australia. Though I will be celebrating Los Reyes Magos on the 6th. My 1st year here we were in Sydney for NYE–an experience I will never forget. Happy New Year!


I wonder how many people have choked to death on the grapes? I’m sure some have.

Happy New Year.

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