Life Abroad: Of Red Undies, Sugary Pigs, and Freezing Waters

by Miss Footloose

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.  ~Bill Vaughan

Happy New Year! I gathered up, for your enjoyment, and my own edification, several New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world (other than the partying and fireworks that abound).

Red Undies for New Year's Eve

Market Stall in Sant Cugat, Spain.  (Thank you, Jennifer!)

So what’s all this red underwear about? Well, in SPAIN you should wear new red underwear on New Year’s Eve if you want love and passion in the coming year. Very cool. As you can see on this photo this makes for cheery displays in markets and shops. This is also a custom in other Latin countries, but it originated in Spain, where in the Middle Ages wearing bright colors was not allowed, so people wore them underneath their clothes — surely not in the form of underwear as we know it today. History suggests that in the Middle Ages women wore no undies at all. I tucked this bit of info away in my ESWK (Endless Store of Worthless Knowledge).


To bring happiness and good luck and to keep out evil spirits, people in JAPAN hang a shimekezari in front of their houses or on their doors, a rope of straw often decorated with fern leaves, oranges and so on. A lovely way to get creative and make works of art.


If you’re in the PHILIPPINES, make sure that at the stroke of midnight you have all your doors and windows open – including cabinets, closets and drawers – this so that good luck can enter for the new year. If you try that in cold climates, bad luck comes in and you’ll catch pneumonia or get frostbite.


In AUSTRIA, New Year’s Eve is called Sylvesterabend, the Eve of Saint Sylvester. A traditional punch is made of red wine and spices. Pigs are said to bring good luck and you’ll find decorative pigs everywhere, made of edible substances or not. Roast pork is eaten on New Year’s Day.

Good Luck Pig

Vienna: A shopping cart full of pigs. (Thank you, Gaby!)

I understand Vienna is one big party on New Year’s Eve (I should have gone Vienna this year. It’s one flight away. Instead, I’m sitting in my office in Chisinau, Moldova, typing away at this post.)

Good Luck Pig

This marzipan good luck pig lives in Germany, where pigs bring good luck too


Do you wish for safe travels in the new year? Do what the people in the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, CHILE and MEXICO do: Pack a suitcase and walk around the block at the stroke of midnight. Be aware that if you do that somewhere other than mentioned countries, you might get picked up and admitted to the loony bin.


In my native country, THE NETHERLANDS, we party, have lots of fireworks like most of the rest of the world, and we eat massive numbers of greasy, yummie oliebollen (oil balls). There’s also a newish tradition for New Year’s Day you might want to know about (or not): The Nieuwjaarsduik, or New Year’s Dive. A dive in freezing winter water, mind you – in the North Sea, or a lake or another body of water somewhere in the country.

New Year's Dive

Into the freezing water. This is fun?

The dive is sponsored by Unox, a company known for its soups and sausages. The brave crazy ones don an orange hat-with-logo and after they’ve made the plunge and raced back out, they get a cup of Unox soup to warm up. Not everyone thinks a free cup of soup is worth it, but in Holland (The Netherlands) you can always find people ready to do crazy things for the hell of it. And there are always plenty of spectators to watch them do it.

That’s it for this New Year’s Eve. I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, Adventurous New Year!

* * *
Please start the new year with a good deed and tell me of fun or weird New Year’s Eve traditions or superstition from your corner of the world. And if you have any pictures, I’d love to see them.

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[…] Lane — Foreign Fun in Exotic Places (blog) and (Twitter handle) Recent posts: “Life Abroad: Of Red Undies, Sugary Pigs, and Freezing Waters” (December 31, 2011); “Expat Foodie: What to Do with Goose Fat?” (December 27, 2011); […]

The new year has well and truly started and I just now read your post – enjoyed it very much! Hope you have a prosperous and blessed 2012!

We have the tradition of red underwear on New Year’s Eve in Italy too!

Also, Italians make a lot of creations out of marzipan (which I think looks cool but tastes bleah), but I’ve never seen the sweet sweet pig! 🙂

(I love all that red underwear, by the way. Passion and excitement aren’t just for the slender of form.)

I’ve seen shimekazari (I’m pretty sure this is the term for them — ‘kezari’ would mean they were shaved), but never made one myself. But in Japan, men also go out in the dead of winter and jump into ice-cold water, sometimes even breaking through ice and snow to do this. That is NOT the way I want to celebrate the New Year’s holiday — and not the way I’d choose to die either. When I was little, on New Year’s Night we were encouraged to make as much noise as possible, banging on pots and pans and honking the… Read more »

Reading about other countries’ New Year traditions was fun! I had no idea that they were so diverse. I wish I could tell you a specific tradition here. There are actually quite a few but I’m one of those people that never remember after you tell me….-(.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year Karen! And I hope you and your husband weren’t too homesick and had a lovely Christmas dinner with your new guests.

Wishing you an Amazing New Year Karen!

Andrew Duffin

That good-luck pig. Oh, my. That is the most sinister-looking synthetic animal that I have ever seen, I think.

Somehow it looks so….German.

[…] Lane — Foreign Fun in Exotic Places (blog) and (Twitter handle) Recent posts: “Life Abroad: Of Red Undies, Sugary Pigs, and Freezing Waters” (December 31, 2011); “Expat Foodie: What to Do with Goose Fat?” (December 27, 2011); […]

Amazing collection of NY traditions. I lived in the Philippines for nearly 20 years and can tell you a LOT more crazy traditions – including wearing polka dot dresses, putting coins in pockets, jumping at the stroke of midnight (believed to make you taller!), just to name a few.

Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving your blog URL. I’m glad to have found your fab blog!

Verry nice story again! Here in Austria they also do “Bleigießen”.. In fact.. I had some peole doing it in my living room! I thought they where doing drugs but than they explained it was..ßen

An interesting an entertaining post I did do the oliebollen and It nigght we went outside and share champaigne with all the neighbours. When I was young we went our way running past the fireworks to the next safe stop to go along all our friends. Good old time. Never did the nieuwjaarsduik though. Brrrrrr not my thing
You have a great 2012

Hi Karen,
Great New Years round-up! Just thought I’d share that the crazy “polar bear” plunge (what it’s called in my hometown of Halifax, NS) has been a New Year’s day tradition in many North American cities for a hundred years or more! I even had friends who, in the early 90s, went water skiing on Lake Ontario to ring in the New Year. Needless to say, I stood on the dock with coat, hat, mitts and boots on, cheering them on and waiting with a champagne toast!

A happily warm Happy New Years greeting from Thailand!

Learned a lot of new traditions from your post. Good thing the bulls in Spain can’t see the red bras and underwear through the women’s clothing. I also noticed there are no middle-aged and older Dutch people running into the cold water; they all look younger. Happy New Year and we must meet one day soon.
I’m planning on going to Amsterdam in May to meet a friend I connected with from my boarding school days in England. She owns a dance studio in Amsterdam. Will you be there?

Oh yes, the red underwear! I got a set one year, but little did I know it was meant for that, nor did I realised the giver had a crush on me. No surprise then that when I didn’t reciprocate (how was I supposed to know) he gave me the cold shoulder. I made a fresh batch of oliebollen yesterday and am still eating them. I even stuck a few in the freezer to enjoy on a later date. The fireworks should be banned I think, from early morning to late night my cats were frightened. Happy new year by… Read more »

The Dutch husband and I are making oliebollen right now! We are going to be sitting on the couch watching the countdown in New York on TV. I guess that’s the closet thing the U.S. has to a NYE tradition….

It seems that we all wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in Vienna, don’t we hehe
Well, I am in The Netherlands, your native country. I’ve already had … een, twee…., drie…. ok, een paar oliebollen earlier today and at midnight I’m going to eat the twelve grapes symbolising the months of the year that’s ending. After that, toast and home made panettone. Tomorrow I might drop by the Milligerplas here in Zwolle for the Nieuwjaarsduik…. to watch/!
Happy new year!!!!

Really fascinating, thanks. I especially love that marzipan pig. And it would take a whole lot more than a cup of free soup to get me in the North Sea on New Year’s Day! Well done to those who do.

What an original post to celebrate the new year. I loved it, thank you! It left me thinking that Dutch people are very brave (crazy?) but of course you expected that! Looking forward to reading more of your stories in 2012. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Loved this round up of New Year around the world. Happy New Year to you. I think we’re optimists and looking forward to seeing in 2012. 😉

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