Italian New Year traditions: a guide with 8 typical habits

Fresh starts, good resolutions, and excitement about what’s to come: in a nutshell, New Year’s Day is one of the most awaited times of the year. This is how this special day is celebrated in the Italian peninsula, from typical foods to bizarre Italian New Year traditions.

New Year in Italy

Every country has its own, peculiar ways to welcome the New Year. However, very few of them go far and beyond in the celebrations as Italians do. After all, Italian people love to keep their traditions alive!

italian-new-year-traditions
© Original italystart.com Photo

In the Belpaese, the start of the New Year is generally celebrated both on New Year’s Eve (also called il Giorno di San Silvestro, “Saint Silvester’s Day”), and on the first of January (Capodanno, literally the “head of the year”).

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And for sure, people there don’t play it small. From fireworks to huge feasts, and extravaganzas in the main Italian squares, here is how Italians like to pay tribute to the beginning of the New Year.

Happy New Year in Italian

Italians are very warm and friendly people. This is why they love to wish a happy New Year to everybody on their way, from strangers on the street to the cashier at their local supermarket.

Here are some of the most common ways to wish good luck for the beginning of the New Year.

Buon Anno Nuovo or Felice Anno Nuovo – “Happy New Year”
Buona vigilia di Capodanno – “Good New Year’s Eve”
Auguri di Buone Feste – “Happy Holidays”

And the wishing wells don’t end with the first of January either. Celebrations and gatherings go on until the 6th of January, the Epifania, the day that marks the end of the Holiday Season in Italy.

If you are ever in the peninsula during Christmas time, now you know what you can expect!

Also read: When in Rome do as Romans do in Christmas time

What do Italians do on New Year’s Eve?

New Year’s Eve is one of the most awaited days of the year for Italian folks. And what better way to savor that feeling of excitement for what’s to come, mixed with a touch of melancholy for the year that is coming to an end, than with a cozy gathering with family and friends?

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Or, alternatively, with a loud and vibrant party organized in the main squares of most Italian cities?  

The most important thing, after all, is to spend New Year’s Eve with loved ones, in the hope that the positive vibes of the night will carry through all year round. And woe betid who goes to sleep before the stroke of midnight!

New Year’s Day in Italy

From offices to supermarkets and almost any other commercial activity, everything is closed in Italy for New Year’s Day. Ultimately, everybody needs some rest after a big night of celebrations, and Il pranzo di Capodanno (the New Year’s lunch) is for sure something a highlight that cannot be missed.

Christmas food in Italy panettone
Via: flickr.com | N i c o l a, CC

Cotechino (a sort of large pork sausage), tortellini in brodo (a stuffed pasta cooked in chicken broth), and lenticchie al sugo (lentils cooked with tomato sauce) are only some of the main dishes that are commonly served on the first lunch of the year.

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And how can you forget about torrone (nougat) and panettone (sweet bread with candied fruits and raisins), two of the most popular festive desserts in the peninsula?

The afternoon is generally spent calling distant relatives and friends, catching up, and playing board games. Tombola (bingo), briscola (a card game), and Monopoli are also a must during New Year’s Day. Not to forget the classic passeggiata (stroll) to ease digestion after the hefty family lunch. 

christmas in rome
Tombola: number 29 refers to the male sexual organ; also: ‘father of children’. Via: flickr.com | Eugenio, CC

Luckily, this festive climate is not bound to end soon. People can relax and enjoy the beginning of the new year until the day of the Epifania (6th of January), which, as in the popular saying, tutte le feste porta via (“all the holidays bring away”).

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In addition to these broader habits, there are also some more specific traditions that Italians religiously follow to ensure good luck and prosperity in the upcoming year.

Italian New Year traditions

Italians are renowned for being a particularly superstitious population. Not surprisingly, they have some very specific, and sometimes quite bizarre, traditions that should be observed almost thoroughly to welcome the New Year. On the contrary, bad luck is waiting on the corner!

Here are the 8 most popular Italian New Year traditions:

1. Lentils and grapes at midnight

Eating lentils and grapes at midnight is very common in Italian households. The reason is very simple: both these foods are seen as a symbol of wealth and well-being.

Lentils double their size during cooking, and the same is wished for one’s money. On the other hand, eating 12 grapes (one for each month of the year) will help keep this money in the bank account. 

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The reason for this latter habit seems to come from the fact that you need to have very strong willpower to save some grapes from the Fall harvest to the end of the year. Therefore, this is a wish to be frugal and wiser with your money throughout the new year.

italian new year traditions
Via: depositphotos.com | alizadastudios

2. Having a pomegranate on the New Year’s Eve dinner table

A second, very popular tradition is to place a pomegranate on the dinner table. Indeed, according to popular belief, this fruit has the power to bring good luck, prosperity, abundance, and lots of cash (as much as the almost 600 juicy seeds inside the fruit).

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In addition, the red, vibrant color of the pomegranate seeds is associated with vitality, passion, and energy. All the emotions one wants to bring into the new year.

3. Wearing red underwear

One of the most popular Italian new year traditions is to wear red underwear on the night between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day. In addition, the underwear should only be new and thrown away the day after.

To find out the reason for this bizarre habit we have to go back to ancient Roman times when fighters wore red tunics to evoke feelings of fear and strength in the eyes of their enemies.

In addition, red is often associated with life and fertility and is, therefore, the perfect color to welcome a prosperous New Year.

italian-new-year-tradition
Via: depositphotos.com | Roza_Sean

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4. Kiss your lover under the mistletoe

Kissing your lover under a mistletoe branch is believed to be one of the best ways to bless your relationship with a long life. Indeed, a Celtic legend tells that anyone standing under this plant, even if they are enemies, should kiss. Therefore, mistletoe is now a universal symbol of peace and love.

In addition, mistletoe contains progesterone, the female sex hormone, which is considered another symbol of fertility, especially for couples that are trying to conceive.

But there is more. The mistletoe can also be considered a protective tree. Indeed, since ancient pagan times, it was used to protect the home from evil spirits and bad luck. 

This is why a mistletoe ball is often hung on the front door, as a way to chase away bad energies. This works even better if you go into the woods and pick up your own mistletoe!

5. Get rid of the old to make space for the new

The metaphorical “Throw away old habits and beliefs, to make space for the new ones” finds a very concrete manifestation in the Italian tradition.

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People from southern Italy used, and in a smaller part still use, to literally toss old objects (mainly pans, pots, clothes, and pieces of furniture) out of the window during New Year’s Eve. This was considered a way to symbolically create space in their home for what the new year has to offer. 

Too much clutter is never good if you want to start the year on the right foot!

6. Fireworks and firecrackers to scare the evil spirits

Italians love the noise of botti (“firecrackers”)! Even though firecrackers and fireworks were traditionally ignited to scare away the evil spirits wandering around on the last night of the year, today they are just used as entertainment.

However, there is also another (not so good) side to the story. Unfortunately, botti are causing hundreds of injuries in Italian New Year traditions, besides killing thousands of birds and being very harmful to animals in general. 

This is why firecrackers are being banned in an increasingly higher number of locations, including all the major Italian cities.

7. Having money in your wallet

A very renowned superstition says that if you have money in your pocket on the last day of the year, you will have it for the rest of the upcoming year. We don’t know if this is true, but it costs nothing to try.

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8. The first person you meet on New Year’s Day…

An ancient tale narrates that, in order to know how if the new year will be good or bad, you have to pay attention to the first person you meet in the streets on Capodanno.

If you meet a doctor, a baby, or a beggar, misfortunes will be behind every corner. If, on the other hand, you meet a rich man, your year will be full of surprises. And if you meet a priest? You will then be bound to marry someone over the course of the upcoming year.

italian-new-year-traditions
Via: depositphotos.com | Nejron

In conclusion…

Whether you believe in these old Italian New Year traditions or not, you must admit that Italians sanno il fatto loro (“knows well what to do”) when it comes to celebrating the beginning of the new year. And for sure, the classic toast is not enough!

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