Having grown up in the southeast US, I thought I had a corner on the market of holiday traditions that no one fully understands but everyone celebrates. Eating pork every New Year’s Day so you won’t “scratch” in the year to come? What does that even mean?
Come to find out, Colombians have so many New Year’s traditions it puts us southerners to shame. In addition to the ubiquitous fireworks and loud music partying, Colombians observe quite a few rituals, called agüeros, that are vital to the celebration of the turn of the year. Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Wear new yellow undergarments on December 31st, for good luck. You would be surprised how many yellow knickers were for sale in stores, on the street, at intersections, whatever. Why yellow? Couldn’t tell you.
2. Put one of these on your table, so you’ll be sure to have bread on the same for a whole year.
3. On the stroke of midnight, eat 12 grapes to bring good luck for every month of the coming year. Remarkably similar to chubby bunnies but with more choke-hazardly objects.
4. Take 3 potatoes and peel one, peel half of one, and leave one unpeeled. Put them under your bed. At the stroke of midnight (taking care not to choke on your 12 grapes, one must imagine), reach under the bed without looking and grab a potato. If you get the unpeeled one – congrats! You will have an abundance of money this year! If you get the half-peeled one, I guess you’ll be alright but we’re not talking Bill Gates here. If you get the peeled one, bummer. You’ll be poor as a churchmouse (in Colombia they say “peeled” like we say “broke”).
5. At the stroke of midnight (I think the trick to completing all these at the correct time is to have a very Latin American view of time…) grab a big suitcase and run around the outside of your house or block with it. This is so you will get to travel in the year to come.
Being the culturally savvy people we are, we tried to accomplish a few agüeros, although I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy yellow drawers at a stoplight. As we watched the ball drop in Times Square, we chomped a handful of twelve grapes. I regret that there is no photo to document this, but I didn’t think I could handle a camera at the time. Twelve is a lot of grapes at once.
Part of me feels warm and right at home in a culture with so many time-honored traditions. Part of me wonders how much to celebrate agüeros in a country where many people are as superstitious as a baseball player. Only instead of jumping foul lines, they’re putting mini shrines to the Virgin Mary on the dash of their taxi. I guess there’s both good and potential harm in observing any New Year’s tradition, depending on where you really think your help comes from. Thank the Lord our true well-being is in his hands alone, and he doesn’t need us to perform any rituals to try to ensure it.
And not to worry – I have pork in the crock pot right now, which we will be eating with our greens (actually spinach – no one’s heard of collards here) and black-eyed peas tonight for supper. No one wants to scratch in the new year, whatever that means.