Celebrating the New Year – Italian Style

New Year’s Day marks the start of a new year according to the Gregorian calendar. It is a relatively modern practice. Although Romans began marking the start of their civil year on January 1 in their calendar (prior to the Gregorian calendar), the traditional springtime opening of the growing season and time for major military campaigns still held on as the popular New Year celebration.

The Romans, and simply Italians in general, prepare for the New Year celebrations with great excitement and joy. Italians call the New Year’s Day “capodanno” which translates as “head of the year, while New Year’s Eve is called ‘notte di capodanno,’ or ‘sera di capodanno,’ for night or evening of capodanno, despite New Year’s Eve having its own distinctive name. The preparations start with decoration of houses and work-places. Lights are adorned and greenery is given much preference for the Italians in terms of decorations.

The Italian people wear new clothes and exchange gifts on these days. The gifts play a vital role in bringing fortune to homes. People are extra careful in choosing the right presents for their loved ones. The Italian New Year gift items that are considered extremely lucky consist of sweets, honey jars, gold, silver, money, coins and lamps. Every gift denotes special features which is why Italian people love spreading their happiness by sharing gifts – honey signifies sweetness and peace; gold and other precious metals are to bring prosperity and lamps are to illuminate the year with light.

As with most Italian festivals, food plays a major role. Families and friends get together for a huge feast.  In Italy, food is given the upper hand while observing the Italian New Year customs. The customs vary from region to places but, some of the major items never change. Sweet bread or cake is  served in most of the parts of Italy. This food item symbolizes prosperity and hope for New Year. Lentils and raisins are considered very lucky in Italy and these are consumed with the New Year traditional meals. Black eyed peas are considered fortune bringing food item. It symbolizes money and since they are green, it is really auspicious.

Traditionally, the dinner in many parts of Italy also includes a cotechino which is a large spiced sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s trotter. The pork symbolizes the richness of life in the coming year. The New Year is also celebrated with spumante or prosecco, Italian sparkling wine. New Year’s parties, whether public or private, will often last until sunrise in order to watch the first sunrise of the new-born year.

At midnight, fireworks are displayed all across the country. Most towns have public displays in a central square but private parties will also include firecrackers or sparklers and continue for a long time. Naples is known for having one of the best and biggest New Year’s fireworks displays in Italy. Some smaller towns build a bonfire in the central square where villagers will congregate into the early morning. If you’re near the coast, lake or river you will hear boats and ships blowing their horns. Dancing is also popular and many towns have music and dancing before the fireworks. Rome, Milan, Bologna, Palermo and Naples put on huge popular outdoor shows with pop and rock bands.

Just like every other culture, Italy has a set of eccentric yet symbolic traditions in its history which include throwing pots, pans, and clothes out of the window to let go of the past and move toward the future, firing a Christmas log before New Year’s Day to turn away evil spirits (who don’t like fire) and invite the Virgin Mary to warm the newborn Jesus and wearing red underwear for good luck. An old custom that is still followed in some places, especially in the south, is throwing your old things out the window to symbolize your readiness to accept the New Year. So, keep an eye out for falling objects if you’re walking around near midnight!

So, if you’re planning on ushering the New Year in Italy, why not do as the Italians do?

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