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.
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.
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.
Ever 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.
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).
The 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.
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.
In 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.
In 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.
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' faÃ§ades to ward away evil spirits and welcome good luck and happiness.