Posted on by Peter Rettig

Red Underwear and Italian End-of-Year Traditions

pope sculpture - Gamesforlanguage.comBesides Italy, Italian is also an official language in Switzerland (Ticino & Graubünden), San Marino, and Vatican City, and a second language in Malta, Slovenia, and Croatia, but we know little about particular end-of-year traditions in these regions or countries.­

The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.

Italy, where San Silvestro died, obviously has a special relation to the Saint and uses the term "Notte di San Silvestro" (as well as "Vigilia di Capodanno") as names for New Year's Eve.

There are some particular Italian Notte di San Silvestro traditions that you may not know about:

Red UnderwearRed Underwear Christmas Present

The most curious one must be to wear red underwear during the last day of the year. It is supposed to bring you luck, health, and love. Importantly, a piece of red underwear should have been given to you as a present, for example for Christmas, and you'd be wearing it for the first time on New Year's Eve. This centuries-old custom, originally just observed by women, is now also being adopted by men! Anything for luck, health, and love, right? 

Lentil Stew & Pork Sausage

Lentils and sausages - Gamesforlanguage.comThe San Silvestro dinner, eaten with family and friends, varies quite a bit from region to region, but it often includes fish and seafood. At midnight when the bells ring, a traditional lentil stew is often eaten, one spoonful per bell, served together with "zampone" (pig's trotter, stuffed with spicy ground-up pork, usually dried and cured) or "cotechino" (a rind-and-pork-meat sausage). The round lentils, representing coins, are supposed to bring wealth and good fortune.

Grapes

Grapes and dried fruit are traditionally served at the end of the dinner. Preserving grapes for the Capodanno dinner - rather than eating them earlier - means that you have willpower and are a frugal person. Everybody at the table eating the grapes will therefore be frugal and wise with their wealth.

Throwing out old "Stuff"

Throwing out of the window unused or unusable stuff - pots, pans, clothes, and kitchen utensils - will "clear the deck" for next year. While few Italians still seem to practice this tradition - it was more prevalent in southern Italy in the past - you may still want to watch you head when celebrating New Year's Eve in Naples and further south.

At midnight, fireworks are also displayed across much of the country and the first day of the year, "Capodanno," is an official holiday in Italy as in many other parts of the world.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.