28 Dec 2009

The traditions of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in our corner of Tuscany.

New Year’s Eve in Tuscany

When I was younger, I loved “l’ultimo dell’anno“, New Year’s Eve: I organized parties with my friends, I could stay up all night, sleep at a friend’s place, etc. I hated “Capodanno“, New Year’s Day because I had to get up at a decent hour to go to church and then to my grandma’s house to have lunch with the rest of the family. When you go to bed at 6 am, having to go to a 10 am mass is one of the least appealing things in the world. Add to that a long meal when you have to interact with people and eat a lot of food, and that makes for a catastrophic day for a teenager!

Now, I am at a stage in my life in which I much prefer quieter celebrations: a nice dinner with our closest friends, or a quiet week-end away with my husband. Let’s face it… I can’t keep my eyes open until 6am anymore, no matter how much coffee I drink!! Capodanno, though, is still not a fun day, because now I need a lazy morning even if I go to bed at 2am!

This year it looks like we are going to spend New Year’s Eve in Siena. We will go to my cousin’s place for dinner. We are not planning on leaving the house, even though we might change our mind, as it seems that the usual party in Piazza del Campo will be particularly interesting this year. The Campo will house the “World Wide Party“, organized by the French company Danny Rose Maximage Experience and the director Sergio Carrubba. There will be an “Opéra Lumière“: essentially, all the buildings in the square will be used as gigantic silver screens onto which images related to the symbols and art history of the city will be projected. This is supposed to be the largest HD projection in the world: a 20,000 m2 “screen”, great visual art and live international music. It could actually be really cool.

The other option was to go to Pisa. New Year’s Eve celebrations in Pisa will consist of several concerts in Piazza Garibaldi and under the Logge dei Banchi. Or, we might have ended up in Grosseto, where the New Year’s Eve party will be in the main square, by the Duomo. A guy we know, Luca Pirozzi, is playing with a ska orchestra and that might have been neat too.

As usual, I am fascinated by the historic side of celebrations. Understanding the origins of the traditions we still respect today makes me feel like we did not invent anything at all. I also find extremely fascinating the idea that millions of people have celebrated the same things over the millennia. Sometimes we think of the Romans, or of the Etruscans as “abstract” entities rather than as real people, but they were indeed real and much closer to what we are today than we would ever think.

New Year’s Eve celebrations derive from the Roman celebrations in honour of the God Janus, the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. In Nothern Europe, Flemings and druids would celebrate the New Year by wearing stag-horns and organizing feasts and libations.

Over the centuries, what was considered New Year’s Day has changed several times. Until 1752, England and Ireland celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25 (corresponding to the day of the Annunciation of the Lord). Interestingly, Pisa and Florence also celebrated the arrival of the new year on the same day, and the “Capodanno Pisano“, the Pisan New Year’s Day, is still celebrated today in the city. In Spain, on the other hand, until the 17th century, the New Year was celebrated on December 25, which also corresponded to the winter solstice. In France, New Year’s Day coincided with Easter Sunday until 1564 and in Venice it was celebrated on March 1st, in line with the ancient Roman tradition of the Calendimarzo, the calends of March, that is, the first day of the month. Finally, in Apulia and Calabria the celebrations were traditionally on September 1st, in line with the Bizantine habit. New Year’s Day was officially moved to January 1st after Pope Innocent XII modified the Gregorian calendar in 1691. A curiosity: during Fascism, the regime tried to impose October 28 as New Year’s Day, the anniversary of the March on Rome.

There are several traditions that most people observe on New Year’s Eve in Italy:

  • we have a “cenone“, literally a huge dinner, and one of the dishes must be zampone – pig’s trotter stuffed with salted and flavoured minced meat – or cotechino – a type of pork saussage – con le lenticchie – lentils. This is said to bring good luck and money in the new year;
  • on New Year’s Day, we eat grapes for good luck and prosperity in the new year;
  • on New Year’s Eve we wear red underwear for good luck; red clothing items are also considered to bring good luck;
  • at midnight on New Year’s Eve, we break or throw an old dish or something old out of the window, for good luck (well… not so common in urban areas anymore, still fairly common in southern Italy – I once saw a guy throw an old washing machine off of his balcony in Taranto…);
  • before going out to celebrate, many people still watch the President of the Republic’s end of year salutation message on national television and then go to church for the short “ringraziamento“, thanksgiving ceremony and blessing organized in most churches;
  • many people light fireworks and fire crackers at midnight (beware, in some areas people fire guns out the window, and every year there are fireworks and gunshot victims throughout the country);
  • in our area of Tuscany, they say that if the first person you see when you wake up on New Year’s day is of opposite gender you will have a lucky year;
  • games like tombola (bingo), and card games like mercante in fiera are quite common.

Looking for a place to spend New Year’s Eve in Tuscany? Check-out our offer for New Year’s Eve in Pisa.


  1. Wonderful post! I have celebrated New Year’s once in Italy. I was in Napoli. I didn’t know at the time about the red undies, throwing out a dish, and the like. However, I was familiar with the grapes as well as the fireworks. We gathered in the main square and met new friends, drank good wine, and ate grapes. It was a great combination of good food, good wine, and good company.
    Happy New Year!
    Ms Traveling Pants

  2. very interesting!! My Gram was just explaining Capodanno to me over Christmas, I love all the traditions and think I might just throw a few plates out the window this year : )

  3. Thank you for your comments! Napoli is the perfect place for a full immersion in the real Italian New Year’s Eve spirit! Julieann, a few plates should bring you plenty of luck! LOL Happy New Year!

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