The first time I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Portugal (A Passagem de Ano, also sometimes known as Réveillon or Véspera de Ano Novo) it is amazing that I made it through the following year, as, according to Portuguese tradition, I did everything wrong. I ate chicken for dinner on New Year’s Eve, wore a coat with a button missing, had no money in my purse and toasted the new year with water (as I had to catch a very early flight the next morning). Since then Portuguese friends have advised me on how to celebrate New Year’s Eve properly in order to achieve success and happiness in the year ahead.
For many people the night begins with a family dinner of seasonal food similar to that of Christmas, including the ubiquitous bolo rei (king cake), followed in the early hours of the new year with a sustaining bowl of caldo verde (a comforting soup made of potatoes and a green leafy vegetable similar to kale, usually served with slices of chouriço in it). At midnight most towns and cities have a firework display, and often have live music in the main square. The best places to celebrate New Year’s Eve are Lisbon (in Terreiro do Paço), Porto (on Avenida dos Aliados), Coimbra (in the lower part of the city), Albufeira (on Praia dos Pescadores) and in Funchal on the main island of Madeira (which has one of the biggest fireworks displays in the world).
Throughout Portugal most people, young or old, still observe a few simple customs:
- At midnight everyone eats 12 raisins, one at each stroke of the clock, and makes a wish with each raisin.
- The new year is toasted with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, based on the notion that alcohol brings health and vitality.
- People hug and kiss their loved ones at midnight, to bring them luck throughout the year, and wish them Feliz Ano Novo, Próspero Ano Novo, Bom Ano Novo or Boas Entradas.
But unlike Christmas, which is based around Christian traditions, scratch beneath the surface and on 31 December you will find people upholding New Year’s Eve superstitions and rituals that go back to pagan times, particularly among the older generations in rural areas. Many of the rituals are focussed on ensuring that wealth is achieved in the year ahead, such as the following which are all believed to attract money.
- Eat chocolate on New Year’s Eve.
- Keep a bay leaf in your wallet throughout the year.
- Put a bank note in your right shoe on New Year’s Eve and then use this note for your first purchase of the new year.
- Ensure there is money in your pocket or wallet on New Year’s Eve, so that you don’t start the new year with no money, as this state will last throughout the year.
- Stand on a chair with money in your hand (to symbolize a promotion or rise in status in the new year) and then come down with your right foot first, or climb onto a chair with your right foot first with money in your hand. These both mean you start the new year with money which is thought to attract more money.
- Throw money into the house or up into the air at the stroke of midnight to bring about wealth to all who live there.
- Wear yellow underwear to encourage financial success in the coming year.
- Avoid wearing clothes that are dirty, torn, coming unstitched, have buttons missing or are too tight-fitting to avoid financial problems.
- Dance around a tree at midnight.
Many other rituals at the stroke of midnight are based around getting rid of the bad spirits of the past year.
- Hop on your right leg three times at the stroke of midnight with a glass of champagne in your hand, without spilling it, and then throw the champagne over your shoulder without looking behind you to get rid of all your problems from the past year. It will also bring luck to the people whom the champagne lands on!
- Bang pots and pans out of the window at midnight to make as much noise as possible. Nowadays fireworks have the same effect.
- Turn on all the lights and open all the doors in the house so that the old year can leave and the new year can enter, then at midnight go outside and re-enter the house with your right foot first.
- Have a clean house, replacing anything that doesn’t work and throwing away old crockery and other broken items to rid the house of negative energies. In the past people used to throw broken vases and crockery out of the window into the street below, but nowadays people maintain this tradition by throwing streamers and confetti.
There is also a desire for harmony in the family in the new year brought about by yet more rituals.
- Put new bed linen on the bed on New Year’s Eve to ensure a happy love life in the ensuing year.
- Avoid arguments on New Year’s Day, to keep familial peace in the year ahead.
Other customs are based on a desire for good luck, health and happiness in the new year.
- Avoid eating chicken as the last meal on New Year’s Eve, as it is believed that eating chicken will make happiness in the year ahead fly away.
- Choose the colour of the underwear you wear on New Year’s Eve based on what you want to achieve in the year ahead. Blue underwear is thought to bring good luck, white will bring peace, green will bring good health, red is for love, brown will bring career success and, as mentioned above, yellow underwear will bring financial success.
- Wear new clothes on New Year’s Day to represent a new start to the year ahead.
- Keep the champagne cork from the bottle of champagne for the entire year to come to renew your strength.
- Swim in the sea on New Year’s Day as it is said to renew the body and soul at the start of the year.
So, this New Year’s Eve at midnight I’m going to cover all the bases and will be hopping on my right leg three times with money in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, then will throw the money up into the air while eating 12 raisins and banging my pots and pans. I’m not superstitious, but you never know …!