Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy New Year Latin Style: Unusual South American Customs for bringing in the New Year

Teach English as a Foreign Language Abroad

When you teach English abroad you have a continual stream of opportunities to delve into and involve yourself into the local culture. It's one of the many payoffs of living and teaching English as a foreign language in another country. Take this case in point:

Question: What do a suitcase, 12 grapes, a sheaf of wheat, the color yellow, three potatoes and a stuffed dummy all have in common? Right! They each represent a custom for bringing in the New Year. But do you know these customs and how they’re celebrated?

Get That Suitcase Out

Many South Americans believe that if you carry an empty suitcase around the block on New Year’s Day you will be fortunate to travel during the course of the year. When my elderly neighbor sauntered out of her front gate in Cali, Colombia with a beat-up valise she’d dusted off for the occasion, she brushed off my queries brusquely.

“Don’t bother me now! I’m leaving!”

Minutes later, her “tour” complete, she confided her desires to “see the states” this year. According to her, a voyage this year was now, “in the bag”.

Around the middle of December you begin to notice a disproportionately large number of fruit and vegetable street vendors starting to sell grapes. Grapes are everywhere by Christmas. Green grapes, purple grapes, mixed grapes – they roll down the street and squish beneath your careless feet as you stroll market areas and shopping districts. Eating 12 grapes at or near midnight of New Year’s Eve will bring you good luck throughout the New Year. Green grapes are preferred by the majority, but any will suffice I was told by Anna Lucia who walked into the room with a bag of mixed grapes ample enough to produce a case of “vino”.

“You’re not planning to eat all those, are you?” I chided.

“No, they’re not just for me. They’re for my family too.”

I remembered that she and her husband have five children. Add in the extended family and well, enough said. Haven’t had your twelve yet? Hurry up, there’s still time.

A Bundled Sheaf of Wheat

A black youth stood on a downtown Pasto, Colombia corner hovering over a five-gallon bucket full of bundled sheaves of wheat. Each was wrapped with a brightly colored ribbon or two. Some were enhanced even further with a flower or small bouquet. People up and down the streets walked with a similar-looking sheaf held upright out in front of them like a siren in front of a fire engine. Crossing the Zocalo, or main square downtown, a young girl sitting on a park bench waved her sheaf at us like a magic wand. (pictured above)

“That’s a new one on me”, I said to my companion when she explained.

“If you hang a bundled sheaf of wheat in your home it’s very good luck.”

She continued, “It has twelve stalks of wheat in each bundle”.

“How much for one?” I asked the youth.

We quickly bargained to a lower price.

“Are you sure there’re twelve in here?” I questioned, not wanting to get short-changed.

“Oh yeah. Go ahead and count them.”

When my partner responded, “No there’re only eleven.”

He quickly snapped back, “No way! Count them again.”

We did and there were twelve. This New Year’s luck thing is serious business. The flowered sheaf stands guard now on the bookcase over my desk. Wish me luck, okay?

The Color Yellow

Not all mind you, but quite a few Latinos in Colombia and Ecuador use the color yellow for the New Year. There are a number of ways to do it. You can paint a room yellow. Place something yellow in the room. Wear a yellow item of clothing and you’ll shower yourself with fortune for the New Year. For reasons which as yet elude me, a favorite is to wear yellow underwear. (The preferred color in Mexico is red.) Both men and women have a pair or two on hand for the occasion – or so I’ve been repeatedly told. Okay, okay, I’ll fess up; I have a couple of pairs of yellow underwear myself. So call me fickle. I have red ones too. Do I wear a pair for New Year’s? I’ll never tell!

Be sure to read “How to Use Three Potatoes and a Stuffed Dummy for Bringing in the New Year” for more unusual Latin American New Year’s customs.

So again, “Happy New Year!” … now get that suitcase out!

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, prolific writer, author and public speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 100 countries. Get your FREE E-book, "If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.

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