Volunteer Leah Hughes in Cusco Part VIII: Happy New Year!
It’s hard to believe that another year has come and gone. New Year’s is always a fun holiday, and this time I got to celebrate Peruvian-style. I learned many local traditions, some of which I just may continue in the future. I realized that we don’t have too many end-of-the-year customs in Canada, other than making a New Year’s resolution. Interestingly enough, resolutions seem to be one practice they don’t have here. Like at home, the end of one year and the beginning of the next is a time for reflection. However, resolving to change something in your life seems to be less important here than doing all the right things to ensure luck in the next twelve months. I was told that some people do make resolutions, but it is not nearly as widespread a practice as in North America.
They may not make New Year’s resolutions in Peru, but they certainly celebrate the occasion. If you took a stroll through any marketplace in Cusco in the last week, you would have noticed the incredible quantity of yellow underwear on display. The custom is to buy a brand new pair of yellow underwear to wear on New Year’s Eve. That way you’re wearing them as the clock strikes twelve and the New Year begins. A fresh pair of yellow undies ensures luck and money in the year ahead (especially the money part). If you’re already feeling fairly lucky and financially secure, other options are also available. Red undergarments are thought to bring love and romance in the New Year, while green clothes ensure health. I didn’t see too much green in the market, but there was definitely no shortage of yellow boxers or lacy red bras. The lucky colour yellow was actually everywhere. On the day of the 31st, the streets were filled with vendors selling yellow flowers, candles, garlands, and even yellow cakes. The usual tacky New Year’s goods were also for sale, such as “2013” hats, plastic eyeglasses and necklaces (all yellow, of course). At midnight I was showered in yellow confetti, which I saw sprinkled everywhere in the streets the next day.
Another tradition involves buying fake paper money and counting it as the clock strikes. Supposedly, if you count money on New Year’s, you will never be short on cash in the coming year. There are lots of ways to positively influence the year ahead. If you wish to travel, you should take your suitcase for a jaunt around the block as the New Year begins. To ensure professional success, you might also bring folders or papers home from your office and carry them up a staircase at midnight. Carrying items from your work up stairs means you will move up in your job. A custom I particularly like involves eating grapes. At midnight you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year ahead. As you eat each one you make a wish for the corresponding month. May I always be so fortunate as to run out of things to wish for halfway through my grapes! I was assured that it’s ok to wish for the same thing twice, so my grapes didn’t go to waste. I just doubled my chances of some things coming true!
It was fun learning all the customs and asking about the finer points of New Year’s luck. I discovered, for example, that it is not ok to simply wear a pair of yellow underwear you already own. They have to be new, or else you’re bringing everything from the last year into the next, which is not the idea at all. Wearing new clothes is also a good way to ensure prosperity and a fresh start in the New Year. On New Year’s Day I went out for lunch with some of the students, and I was informed that it is important to eat pork on the first day of the year. This is because most animals we eat depend on people to feed them. Of all the animals, it is the pig that searches for his food and feeds himself. So you eat pork on January 1st to represent the fact that you’re doing what’s necessary to ensure your own good luck and prosperity in the year ahead.
All in all I had a fun New Year’s celebration and witnessed some customs that were brand new to me. It’s fascinating to see how familiar holidays are celebrated differently in other places. I tried my best to complete the rituals properly, and with all the luck that should be coming my way, 2013 ought to be a good year!