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Six quirky reasons Italian New Year is awesome

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11:09 CET+01:00
The Italians have a reputation for being a superstitious bunch, and some of their New Year customs can startle the uninitiated foreigner. From the correct underwear to smashing crockery, The Local looks at the reasons behind Italy's strangest New Year traditions.

The food: lentils, sausage and grapes


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This is Italy, so food is of paramount importance, and although the traditional New Year's menu might seem like a random selection of foodstuffs, it's actually carefully thought through.

Lentils symbolize wealth and prosperity - either because their round, flat shape and golden brown colour means they resemble gold coins, or because they are long-lasting and so represent longevity. Then you've got the sausage meat, replaced in some parts of Italy by stuffed pig's trotters, which again means good fortune for the coming year, because it is a rich food symbolizing abundance.

But don't forget to finish your meal with grapes. These ensure you will be frugal with your new-found wealth, because it was thought that only someone with excellent willpower could save the grapes from the spring harvest time until the New Year meal.

They wear red underwear for the occasion


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Whether you've got a date for your New Year's Eve party or not, you need to put some extra thought into your undergarments. Red underwear will apparently help to fend off evil spirits and negativity, bringing you happiness in the coming year.

A study carried out by the Italian drinks company San Pellegrino revealed that 60 percent of Italians think the custom is linked to fertility or good luck in your sexual endeavours, but it is actually much more general. The colour red has been used for centuries to ward off war and other disasters. You might even see red underwear hanging in the streets or shop windows during the lead-up to New Year.

However, it’s traditional that your capodanno underwear should be new and a gift from someone else, so no digging out a tattered pair of red pants, and if you buy your own, you’re cheating. 

They spend the evening playing bingo


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In many parts of the world, card games and bingo are associated more with pensioners than trendy parties, but at Italian New Year's Eve parties everyone settles around the table for a game of ‘tombola’ - similar to bingo. 

Tombola was created in Naples in the 1700s as an alternative to gambling, which the church did not approve of. King Charles of Naples made a concession to the Catholics and said he would ban gambling during the Christmas period only. But those sneaky Neopolitans found a way to get around the new law by playing tombola at home during the holidays. 

They party until sunrise


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Italians don’t do things by halves, and although you may be used to New Year celebrations fizzling out shortly after midnight, be prepared to keep the party going until the early morning. In Italy the celebrations usually last until at least sunrise, so that you can see the new year arrive.

They throw things 

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Watch out for falling objects – in some southern parts of the country, it’s traditional to throw possessions, particularly crockery, out of your window to show that you are ready for a new start in the new year. If you'd rather that new start didn't involve arguments with the neighbours about why you chucked a plate at their head in the middle of the night, an alternative tradition is crashing pots and pans together at your front door, to frighten away evil spirits (see below).

They love a big bang (with a purpose)


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True, this New Year custom isn't unique to Italy, but while other nationalities may simply enjoy the bright colours, Italians have a different reason for setting off fireworkers. According to superstition, demons and bad spirits don’t like loud noises, so this a way to ensure they're all scared off before the new year begins. Some people even say the pop of champagne corks is the reason prosecco or spumante are favoured over normal wines – it’s as good an excuse as any for a glass of fizz.

You'll have your future mapped out (So avoid babies, doctors and priests)


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Superstition dictates that the first person you meet after midnight on New Year will dictate how the rest of the year plays out. If you see someone older of the opposite sex first, congratulations, you’re going to have a great 2016 (it's a sign that you will live a long life and be lucky in love this year). If it’s a baby or someone of the same sex, your year hasn’t got off to the best start. Variations on this legend state doctors are a bad omen too, because it's a sign your health will deteriorate, while others say you should be wary of seeing a priest or a postman, though the reasons behind this aren't clear.
 

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