5 Colombian New Years Superstitions
I saw 2013 in with some Colombian traditions at home.
Colombians are quite superstitious people. Magical realism isn’t just a literary style, but a part of everyday life for many of the Colombians I know. As such there are many superstitions and interpretations of omens to explain the present or predict the future. I think the strong Catholic culture provides fertile ground for the magical realism of life, especially here on the coast where time seems to operate in a different dimension.
In making plans for New Year’s Eve, I wore my good old Aussie Akubra. I planned a menu of finger food, music, mocktails and party poppers. I imagined the countdown and then the big grins and arms wrapped around friends and family while from seemingly nowhere the strains of the un-singable Auld Lang Syne wafted in. I was definitely on a different continent whilst imagining this scene.
I think the realisation I was not at home only dawned on me when it became a big deal that mi novio and D weren’t going to be at home with the family and when la suegra told me I had to go buy yellow undies. Family is a lot more important in the everyday lives of Colombians than it is for Australians. There are many dates in the calendar that are important for the family to be together, whereas in Australia, the only really important family date is Christmas. I was expected to call my family back home to wish them happy new year, although truth be told, my family would never expect a special New Year’s Eve call. For Colombians, it’s important to spend New Year’s Eve with the family and participate in an aguero (superstition or omen) or two. Here are five superstitions I learned about in the last few days of 2012.
1. Start the new year in a state of cleanliness
While we have spring cleaning, here they go to great lengths to clean out all the cobwebs, dust the ornaments, tidy wardrobes and wash clothes before the new year ticks over. Having a clean home is a way of welcoming positive changes and having a great year free of the rubbish of the previous year. The cleaning frenzy extends all the way to cleaning the fish tank and having a good scrub in the shower.
2. You have to be awake at midnight
This might sound a little strange, but it is frowned upon as bad luck if you are caught asleep as the clock ticks over midnight. I think I’ve probably been asleep a few new year’s eves before midnight, but even though I was exhausted and there wasn’t much happening in our house this year, I had to set the alarm to wake up before midnight if I was planning on a late night siesta. Although the deafening crappy, repetitious music in the street wouldn’t have let me sleep even if I’d wanted to.
3. Eat 12 grapes at midnight and make a wish as you swallow each one
In the days leading up to 31 December, carts laden with grapes appeared in the streets so people could quickly and easily buy some grapes to complete the superstition. This tradition originated in Spain with the likely explanation that it started with grape-growers trying to sell their leftover grapes. In Spain you are supposed to swallow one at each strike of the clock at midnight. Here in Colombia it is a bit more relaxed. You have to start on the first grape as the clock ticks over and try to eat the grapes as quickly as possible, but in typical Colombian style, there isn’t a rush or sense of urgency about it. I found it helped to write down my 12 deseos (wishes) so I didn’t forget them as I was scoffing down the grapes and trying to spit the pips out; something I’ve never been any good at.
4. Hold some lentils in both hands
The lentils signify that you will be blessed with food during the year and not go hungry. At midnight you should hold a few uncooked lentils in each hand to receive this blessing. A sister-in-law told me to put a few in each pocket so as not to be caught without lentils at midnight.
I stared at la suegra incredulously when she told me the day before New Year’s Eve that she had to go to buy some yellow undies. It just came out of the blue and when I asked why, she said it was to bring prosperity in the new year. The idea is to slip into the new yellow knickers at midnight for the wealth to come your way, however in amongst eating 12 grapes and holding onto some lentils, this is a little difficult to do!
Now all I need to do is wait out the year to see if these little rituals work and bring me prosperity, wealth, good vibes and my 12 wishes. If these don’t work, I could always try something new from this list of 22 Latino rituals and traditions next year.
Do you have a new year’s superstition or ritual?