There’s a countdown that’s twenty-four hours long: the countdown to the New Year.
Because of time differences, when Australians are toasting the 1st of January, Americans are saying their last goodnight of the old year. In a way, the world spends a whole day with its eyes on the clock in the lead-up to midnight.
But each country has its own way of marking the occasion. In Sydney, the city lets its collective hair down at beach parties, while the mood in Guatemala is quite different: at the stroke of midnight, everyone eats twelve grapes, making a wish for each one.
In Chile, people spend the night in the cemeteries, sleeping alongside their loved ones’ tombs, whereas Bolivians usually place a coin inside a cake to augur prosperity for their guests: whoever finds it will have a good year.
Back in Europe, in Germany it is customary to munch on fruit – especially hazelnuts, a symbol of good omen – and to don a mask (as Italians do at the Carnival); the Swiss upend an ice cream cone on the ground; in Belgium, they leave a coin under each diner’s plate.
And in Italy, the centerpiece is cotechino sausage and lentils; the pulses, tradition would have it, bring prosperity to those who eat them, especially if consumed at midnight.