11 Most Interesting Colombia New Years Traditions

New Years in Colombia

Rather the last year has been good and you want to celebrate all you’ve accomplished or the last year is one you’re ready to move on from and look forward to the future, a new year is always cause for celebration!

I’ve always found different New Years traditions interesting.

Where I grew up in South Carolina, it’s common to eat collard greens and black eyed peas for money and good luck in the new year. We also like to bring in the New Year with a freshly popped bottled of champagne and a kiss.

Of course, there is also the age old tradition of making a New Years Resolution (and probably giving up on it by February!).

There are some really interesting New Years traditions in Colombia too, and I want to share 11 of the most interesting with you here.

Colombian flag graphic with lights behind it like when partying for Colombia New Years Traditions.
Continue reading to learn about 11 interesting Colombian New Years traditions.

Whether you are planning a trip to Colombia to bring in the New Year, live in Colombia, or just curious about learning about Colombia’s New Year’s traditions, you can learn more about how Colombians celebrate New Years here.

Oh, and be sure to check out my post on interesting Colombian Christmas traditions too!

One quick note if you are traveling to Colombia around the holidays.

This is, after all, one of the busiest travel seasons of the year, and Colombia is no exception. Locals and foreigners flock to Colombia’s biggest destination to take advantage of the holidays.

Photo of a couple celebration New Years in Colombia traditions.
New Years in Colombia is lots of fun, but do expect crowds at many of the country’s most well known destinations (this was in San Andres on a white party boat cruise, not a bad way to celebrate New Years).

Cartagena (the main focus of this site) is especially popular as it is Colombia’s most well known international destination but also a popular holiday destination for Colombian nationals escaping the chillier weather in the interior for the lovely beaches and picturesque Rosario Islands nearby.

You should also expect large crowds in Medellín and other popular destinations like San Andres Island, the lovely colonial towns of Villa de Leyva or Barichara, and places like Tayrona National Park.

So, you’ll want to make sure you make hotel reservations early!

If you are going to be in Cartagena around New Years, be sure to check out my guide to the best areas to stay, my picks for the best boutique hotels, the best luxury hotels, the best beach hotels, and the best hostels.

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Graphic showing a cork popping out of a champagne bottle with the illusion of a firework exploding.
While you should expect fireworks and champagne bottles popping, Colombia has some interesting New Years Traditions of its own too.

Interesting Colombian New Years Traditions

Ok, so let’s get to this list of the most interesting Colombian New Years traditions.

Not all of these traditions are practiced by all Colombians. In fact, I’d say in my experience, they aren’t strictly observed by most, but many people do maintain one or several of these traditions for New Years in Colombia.

Especially in more traditional families or in the barrios they are more commonly observed.

Several of them are pretty fascinating and interesting, while others may not be as surprising. Most of them have to do with bringing good luck or financial success to the New Year.

You might be asking yourself why is this a top 11? This is a top 11 because, well, everyone does top 10s, 11 has a special significance for Cartagena (this site is mostly about it after all) since it declared its independence on November 11, 1811 (11/11/11), and I think you deserve just a bit more value.

1. 12 Grapes at Midnight

Eating 12 grapes at midnight is probably the most famous Colombia New Years tradition.
Eating 12 grapes at midnight is one of the most common and famous New Years traditions in Colombia.

This is probably the most famous Colombian New Year tradition.

In fact, you may have heard of the 12 grapes at midnight or the New Years Eve grapes as a tradition in other countries too.

The tradition to eat 12 green grapes for New Years Eve actually comes from Spain, and the tradition may date to as early as the 1880s. It eventually spread to much of Latin America, so this Colombian New Year’s tradition is practiced in a number of other nearby countries. Traditionally in Spain they are meant to be green grapes, but I’ve seen both in Colombia.

You are meant to eat the 12 grapes right after the stroke of midnight, downing one with each stroke of the clock. They will supposedly bring you good luck in each month of the New Year.

Yup, that’s 12 grapes in 12 seconds!

Honestly, I’m not sure how many people actually successfully do that, but if you are celebrating New Years in Colombia or with Colombians, there is a good chance there will be some grapes around.

For bars and restaurants offering New Year’s Eve parties and dinners, they usually will have some for you too, making it easy to participate (don’t worry, they should have champagne for a more traditional tasty toast as well!).

2. Wearing Yellow Underwear for New Years

Yellow underwear for New Years in Colombia image of yellow underwear on clothes line.
Wearing yellow underwear is one of the funnier Colombian New Years traditions.

Another funny and pretty commonly celebrated tradition for New Years in Colombia is wearing yellow underwear for New Years.

This actually differs from the Spanish tradition, which calls for people to wear red underwear and is also practiced in Italy and China.

It’s unclear (and depends on who you ask) if the purpose of the yellow underwear on New Years in Colombia is for good luck, for love, or for both.

However, most people do agree, it should be new yellow underwear and definitely should be clean (that goes for all days of the year doesn’t it?).

Some people also wear their yellow underwear inside out and then flip them once the clock strikes midnight.

Superstitious or whether you believe it or not, it’s a pretty easy and funny New Years in Colombia tradition to participate in!

3. Carry Lentils in Your Pocket

Photo of raw lentils, a common tradition for New Years in Colombia to put them in your pocket.
Carrying lentils in your pocket supposedly helps bring you prosperity in the new year according to one popular Colombian New Years tradition.

Another Colombian New Years tradition that involves what you put in your pants.

Some Colombians will fill their pockets with raw lentils on New Years Eve. This is meant to bring them money and prosperity in the new year.

Alternate versions of this tradition use garbanzos, beans, or other grains in place of lentils, and some people claim you should put them in your wallet or pocketbook, not your pockets.

There are even some people who say you should keep them there all year!

4. Or Money

Photo of a couple holding cash, a common Colombia New Years tradition.
Other people claim having money in your pocket or in your hands is the New Years in Colombia tradition to follow for prosperity in the new year.

Rather than lentils or other grains, some argue you should be direct and literally fill your pockets or wallet with money to bring you more money in the New Year.

A variation of this tradition is to have the money in hand at midnight.

So, maybe a fat pocket of lentils and a fat wad of cash in your hand is the best way to go! (Don’t forget a fat mouth full of grapes!).

5. Walking Around the Block with Your Luggage

Photo of someone walking on the street with a suitcase, another common Colombian New Years Traditions.
If you see Colombians out on the street with luggage after midnight, they probably aren’t trying to catch a red-eye but following a popular Colombia New Years tradition that supposedly means you’ll travel more often in the new year.

If money itself isn’t your goal in the New Year but you hope to travel, this next Colombia New Years tradition is for you!

Many Colombians go outside and walk around the block with their suitcases just after midnight as a way to bring them the fortune of lots of traveling in the New Year.

Some people say it should be new luggage, some say it should be packed, and some say neither of those things matter.

And of course, if you are planning some travels of your own in the New Year, be sure to check out all the content on this site, like the best things to do in Cartagena, and all the other great places to see in Colombia in the Other Destinations section!

6. Starting the Year on the Right Foot

Girl walking and stepping with her first step, a common Colombian tradition for New Years.
Many Colombians believe it’s best to make sure your first step of the New Year is with your right foot.

For a simple and easy way to have good luck in the New Year, just make sure to start it on the right foot!

That means literally taking your first step of the New Year with your right foot.

Not too hard, and you don’t have to worry about what’s in your pants, or scarfing down fruit!

7. Burning Down the Old Year

Straw doll burning, a common tradition for New Years in Colombia.
No, those aren’t scarecrows, they are actually meant to represent the old year and people burn them in one of the more interesting New Years Day in Colombia traditions.

Sometimes you don’t just want to have good fortune in the new year, but you also want to move on from what didn’t go so well in the previous one.

Colombians have a fun, and maybe a bit extreme, tradition for this. You might see in the days leading up to the New Years giant, homemade dolls or straw men sitting out in front of people’s homes.

No, they aren’t scarecrows.

These are meant to represent the old year, in particular the misfortune or bad vibes of the year. Sometimes, they are even made to represent specific people, such as an ex or a disliked politician, although they are usually just meant to generally represent the año viejo.

After midnight, this representation of the old year is set on fire, becoming a literal effigy to burning away the stress, misfortune and negative vibes of the last year and starting the new one with a clean slate.

This tradition is a bit less common in the cities nowadays, especially in tourist areas, but you may see it in the barrios and in rural areas.

8. Cleaning the House

A girl with cleaning supplies preparing to do a common New Years Colombian tradition of cleaning the house.
Cleaning house is another classic Colombia New Years tradition to bring in the New Year with a clean, spick, and span, slate.

Perhaps a safer way to get rid of the stain of last year’s misfortune is this Colombian tradition for New Years.

Many Colombians will give the house a deep cleaning on New Years Day. Not only does this eliminate the grime of last year but starts the New Year off with a clean house, ready to receive good luck and prosperity.

9. Predict the New Year with a Potato

Photo of 3 potatoes.
Placing three potatoes under the bed and randomly choosing one is another Colombia New Years tradition more common in rural areas.

This is another New Years tradition in Colombia that isn’t all that common in the cities.

In fact, I don’t know anyone personally who actually does this, and I expect it’s most common in rural areas, especially those with lots of potato cultivation.

Or maybe it’s just not a Cartagena thing and more common in the interior.

Those that practice this Colombia New Years tradition take three potatoes on December 31, peeling one entirely, peeling one halfway, and leaving one unpeeled.

They then place al three of them under their bed.

After the New Year, they reach under the bed and pick one potato without looking. According to which potato they pick, they will have a good or bad year financially.

The potatoes represent the following:

  • Fully peeled – a bad year, as in you will go broke this year.
  • Half peeled – a so so year, with maybe some financial stress.
  • Unpeeled – a good year of prosperity and economic success.

10. Decorate the Table with Wheat

Photo of a bushel of wheat on a table.
Some Colombians decorate their tables with wheat as a New Years tradition.

This is another of the traditions for New Years in Colombia that is more common in rural areas and small towns, and I’ve never actually seen in Cartagena.

People decorate their tables with stalks of wheat.

They should use 12 stalks, one for each month of the year. Some say this tradition is meant to ensure full cupboards and plenty to eat in the new year, while others say it has to do with the stalks of wheat representing change and transformation in the new year.

11. Party in the New Year

Photo of people celebrating New Years in Colombia.
And of course, bringing in the new year with some fun, dancing, and champagne is a tradition for New Years in Colombia too!

And, well, of course, Colombian’s love to party, and like just about everywhere else in the world, there will be plenty of fun to have on New Years Eve.

Many Colombians traditionally spend New Years Eve with family, and there’s likely to be plenty of aguardiente and cervezas involved.

However, lots of people also go out, and it is a popular travel season, so don’t worry, there will be lots to do. Many restaurants and bars have special dinners and parties known as the Cena San Silvestre.

These usually include not only dinner but the grapes and a champagne toast at midnight. Most of the time you’ll also get some buñuelos and natilla, favorite traditional foods around the holidays.

Some include open bars, and some may even include a sancocho stew or soup late night when leaving, a good preemptive hangover remedy. I remember one place we went in Medellín once for New Years Eve did that. Although there was a party at the hostel when we got back, so not sure it did much good since we kept partying!

Photo of a couple celebrating Colombia New Years.
Enjoying the view of the fireworks on the wall is my top suggestion for what to do in Cartagena for New Years.

Anyways, I digress.

If you do want to go to a Cena San Silvestre, you might need reservations as the most popular places may sell out. If you’ll be in Cartagena, check out if any of the places listed on my posts about the best Cartagena restaurants and my Cartagena nightlife guide are offering it or some other event for New Years Eve.

And if you don’t make a reservation, don’t worry, there will be plenty of places you can go out dancing that won’t fill up, you just might not get your first choice place. Also, there will be plenty of people out on the streets having fun too!

In fact, I recommend heading to the wall to catch the fireworks at midnight. There will be lots of people who set up chairs and come early. From there, you can just head to whatever place looks fun that has space.

Fun Colombia New Years Traditions Conclusion

Now you know 11 fun traditions for New Years in Colombia!

Whether you happen to be traveling Colombia during New Years, live in Colombia, or just have a Colombian friend you want to impress, you now know about some of the traditions they might celebrate for New Years.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

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