In Italy, where social customs and culinary culture go back thousands of years to ancient Roman times, tradition and food are still woven together in an opulent tapestry that is never more prominently on display than at Christmas time. The holiday season is a month-long celebration in Italy, wrapping up on Epiphany (January 6th).
Ringing in the New Year in Italy — which is usually referred to as Capodanno or San Silvestro — has its own particular traditions, as the religious focus of Christmas gives way to acts of calling in good luck and abundance in the New Year.
As in last week’s blog post on Christmas holiday traditions, this week we’re highlighting some of the Italian New Year’s traditions that you might not have heard of before.
New Year’s Traditions in Italy: Things You Might Not Know
WEAR RED UNDERWEAR AS A GOOD LUCK CHARM
An Italian New Year’s tradition that might not be so obvious to the foreign viewer of Capodanno festivites is the wearing of red undergarments. While flame-coloured lingerie may seem a racy way to usher in the New Year it is actually meant to invoke good luck.
To properly uphold the tradition the bounty-bringing britches should be thrown into the bin on New Year’s Day.
HUCK STUFF OUT THE WINDOW FOR A FRESH START
Traditions regarding making space for a fresh start vary throughout Italy, but the most amusing are those of Naples and Bologna.
In Naples, at midnight, folks will literally huck stuff out their windows — crockery, pots, pans, maybe even furniture — as a symbolic gesture of creating space for good in the New Year.
In Bologna and other northern Italian cities this ritual takes the form of a burning straw figure called the vecchione, which literally means “the big old one” and represents liberating oneself of old stuff that is no longer useful.
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EAT TO BRING GOOD FORTUNE & ABUNDANCE
Of course the culinary specialties of each region in Italy make their appearance on San Silvestro, but certain foods and traditions are consistent no matter where you are in the country.
The most ubiquitous food in Italy on New Year’s Eve is lentils. Their flattish, round shape is reminiscent of coins, and they swell up when cooked, which explains the belief that they bring wealth in the New Year. You eat them at midnight or just after, and the more lentils you eat, the more money will come to you.
Lentils are usually served with cotechino, a deliriously rich and totally scrumptious spiced sausage, or zampone, a stuffed pig’s foot. Here the fatty richness of the meat predicts riches in the coming year. (If you like pork hocks you will be all over cotechino and zampone like flies on a ham & cheese!)
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To bring good luck on New Year’s we turn to fruit.
You will find Italian dinner tables adorned with dried fruits and nuts such as dates, raisins, figs, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and cashews. Eating seven dried fruits and nuts is the magic formula to invoke the charm.
A pomegranate shared on New Year’s Eve is said to bring fertility and abundance. This tradition, inspired by the abundant jewel-like seeds of the pomegranate, goes back to ancient Roman times.
At the stroke of midnight you will see Italians everywhere toasting with Prosecco or spumante, and eating grapes, sometimes one for every chime of the clock, as the quintessential portafortuna for the newborn year.
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