Italy is not only a beautiful place to be at the end of the year, it also boasts a multitude of traditions both quirky and conventional. In this post, we will provide you a comprehensive overview of the most culturally important traditions practiced on New Year’s Eve throughout the country.
Let’s start with food. Having a big dinner consisting of multiple courses is an absolute must in the lead-up to midnight. Quick tip – this tradition is called ‘cenone di Capodanno’ in Italian – simply, a ‘big New Year’s Eve dinner’. These dinners are enjoyed typically in the company of family and friends. If held at somebody’s house, each guest is invited to bring a dish to the party. As a tourist, if you are not lucky enough to take part in a dinner at someone’s home, countless restaurants across the country provide stunning multiple course dinners as a package to be reserved in advance.
You may be asking what is typically eaten on such a grandiose occasion. Well, the most typical dish eaten on December 31 is cotechino con le lenticchie – a gelatinous pork sausage in a natural casing (cotechino) with lentils served as a side dish (lenticchie). Why lentils, you might ask? While it may be a surprising choice for Italians, it is said that they bring money in the new year – perhaps because they resemble small coins! So, cotechino con le lenticchie is a must-try combination if you are in Italy on NYE!
The Italians also love eating dried fruit – it is a constant throughout the whole Christmas and New Year’s Eve period, particularly as many gatherings are held. It also serves as a nice snack while playing card games together, which the Italians love to do at such times! You can find out more about card games later in the post!
And to drink? As you know, no New Year’s Eve would be complete without a drink to toast with. The poison of choice here is spumante, the Italian version of champagne. It is proudly produced in several regions of Italy, mainly in the cooler northern regions. Spumante is widely available in every supermarket, so there’s no missing it!
Hungry for more? Read all about the typical NYE dinner in Italy.
Another tradition meant to bring luck, this time raunchier however, has to do with red underwear. Yes, indeed, many people in Italy wear red underwear on the last day of the year to usher in good luck in the intimate department for both women and men alike!
In terms of activities on New Year’s Eve, there are several beloved pastimes that represent true Italian culture. With family and friends, card games are a great staple of New Year’s Eve. It’s typical to play cards – often with money involved – after the NYE dinner has been had.
One game that is heavily played throughout the festive season is ‘mercante in fiera’ (‘Merchant at the Fair’ in English). This richly traditional game is played with two decks of illustrated cards representing iconic characters that vary from edition to edition. If you want to familiarize yourself with the game and its rules before you play it with your Italian friends on NYE you can play it online first.
Another game you must know is Tombola – the Italian bingo. One person draws and calls out numbers between 1-99 and, just like bingo, players who have the called-out number on their card can close the corresponding window. In the past, Italian used to use beans to cover their numbers that had been called out. Prizes are assigned to whoever gets 2, 3, 4, and 5 numbers on the same row. ‘Tombola’ happens when all the numbers on the Tombola card get called out.
As well as enjoying great food and drink, playing games and rejoicing in the company of loved ones, what else represents the typical NYE sentiment? Until not long ago, in some parts of Southern Italy, people still threw out of their windows and balconies old things they wanted to get rid of. Luckily this tradition has been slowly disappearing in the last few years for the safety of those walking the streets. Today, however, many Italians still throw away old stuff on New Year’s Eve as a sign of a new beginning, only carrying it out in a more civilized and safe manner – using the good old bin! To get a sense of how some city streets might have looked a few decades ago you can watch this clip from two Italian old movies with the famous actors “Totò” and “Fantozzi”:
There is also always a national broadcast from the President as the year draws to a close. At 8:30 pm each December 31, the President holds a New Year’s Eve speech on TV in which he or she reviews achievements of the year just passed and states the resolutions for the year to come. If you are trying to learn Italian, this could be some great practice!
If you are looking to be out and about on New Year’s Eve, there is plenty of entertainment for you to enjoy. In almost every major Italian city, there are public fireworks to be admired by all. But that’s not all – there are often concerts staged in the main squares downtown with several artists, some well-known nationally and internationally. After midnight, there is generally a DJ set held once the party gets into full swing. To see more details for a certain city you may be going to, visit this post, where concerts in all Italian main cities are listed (the page is in Italian but you still have a good overview of the outdoor concerts in the main cities).
The municipality in the bigger cities and other popular tourist destinations always hosts official fireworks which can be admired by everyone there. Depending on where you are going, you can browse our page to find out where exactly they take place in that specific city.
In some places, people set off their own fireworks illegally. It is important to be careful as these can be quite dangerous and they are not controlled. It’s generally best to stick to the areas where official fireworks are held and avoid narrow lanes and alleyways.
As you can see, there are traditions both rich and quirky that are practiced on New Year’s Eve – it is a wonderful place to say farewell to one year and to greet the next. We hope these tips can enrich your New Year’s Eve experience in Italy!