Agüeros: New Year Customs in Colombia

While in the UK we ring in the New Year singing Auld Land Syne to remind us of friends old and new, and pop open the champagne during the gongs of Big Ben; relatively few of us still carry out the old-fashioned custom of first footing to summon good luck and fortune. In Colombia, preparations will be in full swing for their own New Year traditions and celebrations. With the time difference, it will be 5.00am in the UK when Colombia welcomes in 2015, and as most Brits will be fast asleep, Colombians are just getting started with their end of year fiestas.

A good measure of New Year customs, such as the obligatory countdown, the clinking of glasses and the televised fireworks displays, are somewhat universal.

In Colombia, it is a customary to stay up late with the family and see in the New Year with a number of traditional rituals – or agüeros – to attract health, love, success, prosperity, good energy and money. The word agüero translates to ‘omen’, (not just an Argentine footballer that plays for Manchester City) but in relation to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day it refers more to the actions you take in order to bring you, and those around you, good luck throughout the year ahead. It is still unclear how effective these omens are, the fact remains that they form a part of a tradition invented by the French, brought to South America by the Spanish and adapted by Colombia’s indigenous people.

Just like prayers and hymns are the order of the day, when it comes to New Year’s Eve traditions, Colombians, without fail, welcome in the New Year with a few curious superstitions and oddities….

On the stroke of midnight and for each of the twelve gongs afterwards, Colombians eat a grape for each toll of the bell to welcome a prosperous New Year. Much like the Spanish tradition, each one of the twelve grapes represents one calendar month but Colombians like to make a wish for each grape that they eat. If they successfully munch all twelve grapes then they are due a fortuitous year. Also, to ensure prosperity and fortune it is said that you should shower yourself in champagne at midnight!

If you want to have a year full of success and fortune, then you’d be better off starting the New Year with a meal of lentils. Many Colombians enjoy a spoonful as the clock strikes 12 to ensure a year filled with work and money. Prosperity is also attracted by arranging the dining table on New Year’s Eve with green grapes, an ear of corn, a sprig of wheat, bread and oranges, and eating them early on New Year’s Day. Some Colombians make a small parcel packed with corn, chocolate, lentils, salt and sugar and keep it throughout the year – a practise, which indicates, you will not go without food.

One of the most original New Year’s omens I have heard of in Colombia uses potatoes to determine your future affluence. To decide their economic situation for the next year, three potatoes (one peeled, another half-peeled and the last one unpeeled) are randomly placed under the bed during the day on December 31st. At midnight, one of the potatoes is chosen without looking. If the choice is the completely peeled one, it means your future economic situation isn’t favourable; if the half-peeled potato is chosen, the year ahead will be financially average; but if you should choose the unpeeled potato, then you are sure to become very rich!

If you faired poorly with your potato omen don’t despair – there are other omens on hand to attract wealth such as sitting on a stack of Colombian pesos at midnight which signifies that money will not be far out of reach. Another agüero to attract money in Colombia is to wash your hands just before midnight in a mixture of vanilla and cinnamon! Indeed there are plenty of ways to attract wealth in the New Year – some say their success is due to filling their pockets with wads of peso notes or for those that don’t have them, dried lentils. They may also hold the biggest Colombian note, a 50,000 pesos bill (c. £13.50) in their hand until the clock strikes twelve o’clock. A more glamorous way to invite even more wealth is to drop gold jewelry inside a glass filled with champagne.

At this time of the year, clothes shops and department stores do a roaring trade in tasteless yellow underwear. It is tradition in Colombia to wear yellow undergarments on New Year’s Eve for good luck and to attract positive energy. Donning the yellow pants backwards, at 12.00am on December 31st, then flipping them the normal way once the old year passes, is credited with attracting love. And good luck. Another way to find love and passion for the incoming year is to wear red underwear. Others believe that if they hug the first person of the opposite sex on the stroke of midnight it will ensure that the new year will bring someone to share the next New Year’s Eve. It is even said that if you want to find the love of your life during the next year, you should dive into the nearest river – perhaps in your back-to-front yellow underwear for added effect (although we wouldn’t recommend this one in Britain’s icy waters!).

To attract positive energy in the home during the year ahead and ward off any bad energy from the previous year, Colombians ensure that their homes are glimmering and dust-free on December 31st. To protect their homes they also burn incense and light a white candle to purify the environment. Another way to rid your house of bad energy is to ring a bell in the house at midnight.

But how effective can these Colombian agüeros be? Some people say they have worked for them, while others believe that it is a tradition or mere superstition. Whatever it is, many people perform them in order that the next year will hopefully bring better things than the past year. Most Colombians, many of whom are devout Catholics, like to thank God at this time of year for all the positive things that have happened during the year and pray for prosperity, health and peace for the future.

One final agüero that is particularly fitting is for people hoping to do a lot of travelling in the forthcoming year – and if you’re reading this, that probably means you! Colombians will walk around their neighbourhood with various suitcases filled with clothes and some money to set them up for a year full of adventure. So if you are interested in a trip to Colombia in the year ahead, now is the time to dust off your suitcase and take it round the block!

Wherever you are in the world for New Year’s Eve – have a fun night! I’ll certainly not be the only one in Colombia bathed in champagne, clutching an unpeeled potato and eating twelve grapes whilst running around the block with my backpack in my yellow underpants – but I might be the only Englishman!

Out with the old and in with the new!

Happy New Year from Colombia!!!

by Mark Boultwood

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