28 Dec New Year’s Eve in Italy: fun facts and traditions
HOW ITALIANS CELEBRATE NEW YEAR’S EVE
Italy is not only a beautiful place to be at the end of the year, it also boasts a multitude of traditions both quirky and conventional.Here you can find the most culturally important traditions practiced on New Year’s Eve throughout the country.
Let’s start with food. Having a big dinner consisting of multiple courses is an absolute must in the lead-up to midnight. Quick tip – this tradition is called ‘cenone di Capodanno’ in Italian – simply, a ‘big New Year’s Eve dinner’.
These dinners are enjoyed typically in the company of family and friends. If held at somebody’s house, each guest is invited to bring a dish to the party. As a tourist, if you are not lucky enough to take part in a dinner at someone’s home, countless restaurants across the country provide stunning dinners.
Don’t forget to book your table in advance!
You may be asking what is typically eaten on such a grandiose occasion. Well, the most typical dish eaten on December 31 is cotechino con le lenticchie – a gelatinous pork sausage in a natural casing (cotechino) with lentils served as a side dish (lenticchie).
Why lentils, you might ask? While it may be a surprising choice for Italians, it is said that they bring money in the new year – perhaps because they resemble small coins! So, cotechino con le lenticchie is a must-try combination if you are in Italy on NYE!
The Italians also love eating dried fruit and Torrone – it is a constant throughout the whole Christmas and New Year’s Eve period, particularly as many gatherings are held. It also serves as a nice snack while playing card games together, which the Italians love to do at such times!
THERE’S NO NYE WITHOUT SPUMANTE
And to drink? As you know, no New Year’s Eve would be complete without a drink to toast with. The poison of choice here is spumante, the Italian version of champagne. It is proudly produced in several regions of Italy, mainly in the cooler northern regions. Spumante is widely available in every supermarket, so there’s no missing it!
GAMES WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS
On New Year’s Eve, there are several beloved pastimes that represent true Italian culture. With family and friends, card games are a great staple of New Year’s Eve. It’s typical to play cards – often with money involved – after the NYE dinner has been had.
MERCHANT AT THE FAIR
One game that is heavily played throughout the festive season is ‘mercante in fiera’ (‘the Merchant at the Fair’ in English). This richly traditional game is played with two decks of illustrated cards representing iconic characters that vary from edition to edition.
You can find the rules here.
TOMBOLA: THE ITALIAN BINGO
Another game you must know is Tombola – the Italian bingo. One person draws and calls out numbers between 1-99 and, just like bingo, players who have the called-out number on their card can close the corresponding window. In the past, Italian used to use beans to cover their numbers that had been called out. Prizes are assigned to whoever gets 2, 3, 4, and 5 numbers on the same row. ‘Tombola’ happens when all the numbers on the Tombola card get called out.
As well as enjoying great food and drink, playing games and rejoicing in the company of loved ones, what else represents the typical NYE sentiment? Until not long ago, in some parts of Southern Italy, people still threw out of their windows and balconies old things they wanted to get rid of. Luckily this tradition has been slowly disappearing in the last few years for the safety of those walking the streets.
My family had this tradition as well, even though we live in the North. We used to throw chip or old ceramic plates out of the window. Don’t ask me why. If I come to think about it now…. my goodness!! That’s such a strange tradition, but it was fun!
Today, however, many Italians still throw away old stuff on New Year’s Eve as a sign of a new beginning, only carrying it out in a more civilized and safe manner – using the good old trash-can!
RED UNDERWEAR FOR GOOD LUCK
Another tradition meant to bring luck has to do with red underwear: Yes, indeed, many people in Italy wear red underwear on the last day of the year to usher in good luck the upcoming one!
If you are looking to be out and about on New Year’s Eve, there is plenty of entertainment for you to enjoy. In almost every major Italian city, there are public fireworks to be admired by all. But that’s not all – there are often concerts staged in the main squares downtown with several artists, some well-known nationally and internationally. After midnight, there is generally a DJ set held once the party gets into full swing.
As you can see, there are traditions both rich and quirky that we Italians practice on New Year’s Eve.
We hope to see you in Italy to have these experiences first hand!