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Underwear, Dolls And More: Latin American New Year's Traditions

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: OK, so a glass of something special is one New Year's Eve tradition some people observe along with fireworks, watching the crystal ball drop on New York's Times Square, maybe a midnight kiss or two. But that got us to wondering. What about New Year's traditions in other parts of the world? In the Hillbrow neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, some people throw furniture out of the window to symbolize cleaning out the old year. In the Philippines, some people throw coins into the air to symbolize hope for abundance in the New Year.

Maria Fe Martinez knows a lot about Latin American New Year's Eve traditions. She's a program assistant for NPR's Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante, and she's with us from New York. Fe, thank you so much for joining us.

MARIA FE MARTINEZ, BYLINE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: And first of all, how do I say happy New Year in Spanish?

MARTINEZ: Feliz ano neuevo.

MARTIN: Feliz ano neuevo. OK, thank - so Feliz ano neuevo to you.

MARTINEZ: Perfect.

MARTIN: So what kinds of traditions from your hometown in Lima, Peru, do you - do you personally continue during your New Year's Eve celebration?

MARTINEZ: Oh, well, I'm going to be wearing yellow underwear for good luck tonight.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK.

MARTINEZ: And if you want to have a very lucky year, you have to wear yellow underwear. And if you want to have a very passionate year, you wear red underwear.

MARTIN: Oh, do men do that, too?

MARTINEZ: Yes, men and women. And you can get them all over town. Like, if you're driving in your car, you're going to see a street vendor selling yellow underwear, which is hilarious. Right after Christmas, they show up.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK, that is hilarious. Send us a picture, OK?

MARTINEZ: Perfect.

MARTIN: And I hear that there are dolls that appear on New Year's Eve. Tell me about the dolls.

MARTINEZ: Well, the dolls - usually they represent the old year. And you burn them while you're celebrating. And they depict politicians, even athletes.

MARTIN: You burn them if you don't like them, or...

MARTINEZ: Usually it's because you don't like them. So for example, if there's been a politician that has had a very - like, a horrible corruption scandal, that's going to be, like, the one everyone is going to be burning.

MARTIN: What about the other characters, the - not just politicians, other people. Why do people burn them?

MARTINEZ: In some cases, celebrities that have had, you know, horrible scandals or maybe they just - they simply don't like them and they just want them to stay in the old year and they don't want to see them next year.

MARTIN: Oh, that's intense (laughter).

MARTINEZ: Yeah, it is. It is.

MARTIN: That's kind of an interesting polling, yeah. OK, what about some other traditions around Latin America? What about food?

MARTINEZ: Well, in Peru, it's all about drinking pisco. More than food, it's about drinking because it's New Year's. And then another one that happens throughout Latin America is running around the block with your suitcase, which means that you're going to travel quite a bit in the New Year.

MARTIN: Wow, any others?

MARTINEZ: Hmm, well, the grapes - I don't know if you've heard about that - that you have to get under the table and eat 12 grapes in one minute. Each grape represents a month. And as long as you finish the 12 grapes, you're going to get 12 wishes granted.

MARTIN: Oh, I have to try that one. Well, I heard about stepping on a chair and jumping to the floor at midnight. Have you heard about that one?



MARTINEZ: No, I haven't heard that one, but maybe I can try that one tonight.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Anything else? What else are you going to do tonight just to hedge your bets?

MARTINEZ: I don't know. Since I'm in New York, I'm going to be wearing my yellow underwear. I'm going to have my lentils in my wallet because, you know, you always need some extra cash at hand. And I wish I could run around the block because I do want to - with a suitcase - because I do want to travel next year.

MARTIN: Well, Maria Fe Martinez is a program assistant for NPR's Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante. She is with us from New York. Fe, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARTINEZ: Thank you so much, and happy New Year to everyone.

MARTIN: Can we have that in espanol?

MARTINEZ: Feliz ano neuevo.


TONY CAMARGO: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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