10 Unusual Traditions for Ringing in the New Year around the World

Did you know that in Switzerland people ring in the new year by dropping a dollop of cream on the floor? Or how about how Armenians bake special bread with "good luck" and "best wishes" stamped into it? We thought you didn't. So in honor of 2010, here are 10 unusual traditions observed by different countries around the world.

1. Romania

In Romania, some believe that if you toss coins into the river, you'll have good luck throughout the coming year. Even more impressive: some peasants use December 31st to predict the coming year's weather by systematically peeling, salting and reading the skins of 12 onions. According to this source, "On St. Vasile's Day or New Year's Day, a person who is efficient in witchcraft and spells checks the level of the liquid left by the melted salt in each of the onions peels." The level helps them determine the climate conditions in the new year.

2. Spain

210px-Alfonso_XIII_de_España_(cropped)In Spain, as the clock strikes 12, people eat twelve grapes—one for each month of the year, and for each toll of the bell. The tradition, which is believed to bring good luck, can be traced back to the year 1909 when there was a bountiful harvest in the town of Alicante and Alfonso XIII, the Spanish King, gave grapes to his peeps on New Year's Eve.

3. Switzerland

Picture 3Ever hear of dropping a dollop of cream on the floor to ring in the new year with good luck, wealth and peace? Well that's what some do in Switzerland -- it's thought to bring a year of abundance. (Hey, don't laugh... provided everyone cleans up his or her dollop, it's a lot more civilized than screaming along with a trillion other people in Times Square.) Some Swiss also observe the tradition of dressing up in costumes to invoke good spirits and chase evil energies.

4. Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, they blast car horns and boat whistles, ring church bells and beat drums to drive away evil spirits and demons. In some parts of the country they also throw pails of water from their windows at midnight in a bid to chase away the evil eye. Puerto Ricans also have an unusual tradition for bringing good luck in the coming year: they drop backwards into the breaking waves as the clock strikes 12.

5. Belgium

Belgium might be the only country where farmers wish their livestock happy new year to ensure 365 days of good health and well-being. Well, outside of India, where they bless cows frequently, and, of course, Sesame Street, where Bert and Ernie are always wishing the animals a happy this or that. Belgians are also known to exchange gifts on New Year's, which they celebrate as Sint Sylvester Vooranvond (St. Sylvester Eve).

6. France

pancake-800wiThe French mix health and wealth and usher in the new beginning with a stack of pancakes. (Note to self: get rich quick scheme no. 145: open an iHop in Paris) Another unique custom in France is kissing under the mistletoe as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, sorta like Christmas traditions elsewhere.

7. Armenia

In Armenia, a special kind of bread is baked with good luck and best wishes stamped on it. Traditionally, people conduct a "˜Ritual of Fire' on New Year's Eve where all troubles pertaining to the old year are symbolically burnt. This is not to be confused with the "Ring of Fire' in the fish tank on Finding Nemo.

8. Bolivia

yellow New Breddox Boxer Yellow FIn Bolivia, dolls made of straw and wood are hung outside homes for good luck. Coins are also baked into sweets. Whoever finds the coins will be prosperous in the New Year. It is also considered auspicious to leave 3 stones outside the door for health, prosperity and love. Other Bolivians elect to wear yellow-colored undies to bring themselves a new year full of money. Red undies, on the other hand, supposedly bring love.

9. Portugal

carlIn the northern parts of Portugal, children traditionally sing carols as they visit houses where they are given coins and treats. The songs they sing are called janeiros and are said to bring good luck. As in Spain, eating 12 grapes at midnight ensures 12 months of happiness in the coming year.

10. Japan

Not unlike what happens in Chicago after every Cub's season, the Japanese have "˜forget-the-year' parties and generally consider it a time to forgive and forget. They hang straw ropes across their homes' façades to ward away evil spirits and welcome good luck and happiness.

If you like these kinds of lists, there's plenty more where this one came from. Follow me on Twitter: @resila - and follow mental_floss here to stay up-to-date.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
iStock
iStock

Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
iStock
iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios