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NEW YEAR

Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome

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 stories behind Italy's strangest New Year traditions.

Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome
Fireworks in Venice. Photo: msavoia/Depositphotos

They wear red underwear for the occasion


Photo: nito103/DepositPhotos

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. 

The food: lentils, sausage and grapes


Photo: aizram18/DepositPhotos

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 spend the evening playing bingo


Photo: soniacri/DepositPhotos

In many parts of the world, card games and bingo are associated more with pensioners than trendy parties, but at many 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 Neopolitans found a way to get around the new law by playing tombola at home during the holidays. 

They party until sunrise


Photo: arkade/DepositPhotos

Italians don’t do things by halves, and though 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 


Photo: victoriagam/DepositPhotos

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)


Photo: maforche/DepositPhotos

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 fireworks.

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 – well, 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)


Photo: shippee/DepositPhotos

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 new year (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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FIREWORKS

Firework kills 13-year-old boy in Italy on New Year’s Eve

A 13-year-old boy was killed, 79 people injured, and huge numbers of birds left dead by New Year’s Eve fireworks in Italy, despite local bans on personal firework displays.

Firework kills 13-year-old boy in Italy on New Year's Eve
Fireworks above St Peter's Basilica in Rome on New Year's Eve. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
The boy, from a Roma camp outside the northern Italian city of Asti, died in hospital in the early hours of New Year's Day after a firecracker severely injured his abdomen. 
 
At the same time, the International Organization for the Protection of Animals (OIPA) called for a ban on fireworks in a post showing starling carcasses littering a street in Rome. 
 
“It can be that they died from fear. They can fly up together and knock against each other, or hit windows or electric power lines. Let’s not forget they can also die of heart attacks,” said Loredana Diglio, a spokeswoman for the organisation.
 
 

Despite the boy's tragic death, a local ban on personal fireworks displays in Rome, and nationwide lockdown over New Year's Eve meant for an unusually subdued celebrations, with the number of accidents requiring firefighters to be called out was down by two thirds. 
 
Firefighters carried out 229 interventions across Italy over New Year’s Eve, compared with 686 last year, the the department of public security said in over Twitter. 
 
Of the 79 people injured, 23 were hospitalised,
 
Most of of the call-outs were in Lazio, the region surrounding Rome.
 
A woman was taken to hospital in Naples after she was hit on the head by a firecracker splinter while taking the rubbish out. 
 
A man in Milan lost two of his fingers in the most serious incident there, while others across Italy reported injuries to their hands and close to their eyes. 
 
Eight of the total injured were children.
 
OIPA said that the birds dead in the picture appeared to have been killed by a particularly loud display of firecrackers and fireworks in the leafy neighborhood where many of the birds have their nests. 
 
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