Friday, December 30, 2011

Yellow Pants, Grapes and Triqui Traquis - Venezuelan New Year

Venezuelans have been stocking up on yellow underwear, sparkling wine and grapes in the last few days, in the traditional build up to the celebration of New Year's Eve, or Fin de Año.

The locals love to welcome in the New Year with a massive bang so sales of fireworks or "triqui-traquis" have also been brisk - especially the annoying little firecrackers called "fosforitos", the bigger "empanaditas" and the fearsome rockets with names like "Matasuegra" ("Mother-in-Law Killer") and "Tumba Rancho" ("Shanty Destroyer").

As in many other places in the Spanish-speaking world, New Year traditions in Venezuela involve various ways of saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming the new one in a way that will bring good luck, good health, love and prosperity.

Yellow pants are worn to bring luck and money (they are the colour of gold after all), and red pants are believed to improve your chances at finding love and romance.

Make sure to wear the pants under your clothes, as you would normally.

At my first Venezuelan New Year's Eve party, I made the mistake of pulling over my jeans a pair of canary-yellow bikini briefs I'd been given for the occassion by a well-meaning friend.

While it was funny for about two minutes to strut about like a skinny superhero, it did look a bit wrong on the dancefloor, and if it hadn't been for the gallons of Black Label whiskey and Polar Ice beer we'd been drinking all evening I would have felt a bit self conscious when we went house to house to share a drink with the neighbours.

Some kids in the street even thought it was hilarious to shoot little bottle rockets at me while shouting "mira, aqui viene el supermancito" ("look, here comes the little Superman"), lighting the rockets while holding the sticks in their hands and then firing them straight down the street at my distinctive New Year attire.

Luckily, nobody got burnt, but I did feel a bit confused when I woke up the next day on the sofa with a sore head and these strange pants strangling my nether regions. Even if they'd been bright scarlet I cannot see how they could have brought me any luck in the romance department.

Another popular New Year's custom is to wear new clothes for the first time - known as "estrenos" (just as a new film has its "estreno", its premiere) - again to bring good luck and prosperity.

Generally, New Year's Eve parties follow the same pattern as Christmas Eve, with festive music such as gaitas - classics like "Viejo Año" by Maracaibo 15 or Nestor Zavarce's New Year tearjerker "Faltan Cinco Pa' Las Doce" - and the usual salsa vieja and reggaeton party favourites followed by a meal of yuletide foods such as pan de jamon, hallacas, ensalada de gallina, pernil and drinks like ponche crema.

As the countdown begins to the magic midnight hour guests quickly grab their 12 grapes and a glass of sparkling wine or champagne and try to gobble down a grape for each of the 12 chimes, known as the "12 campanas".

As each grape represents a good month in the year to come you can imagine the rush to get them down.

Any remaining grapes are usually washed down with champagne as the last chime of midnight ends, which is the cue for "los cañonazos" - the deafening fireworks displays that mark the start of the New Year.

This is also time for New Year hugs and kisses, generally to the sound of a traditional New Year song like "Año Nuevo, Vida Nueva" ("New Year, New Life") by Billo's Caracas Boys.

Few traditions are as dramatic as the annual burning of the "Old Year" in the Andean states of Merida, and Tachira, where papier mache figures representing the problems of the old year are paraded through the streets before being burnt at midnight to the sound of gaita music and the deafening explosions of thousands of triqui-traquis.

So now you know what to do to have an authentic Venezuelan New Year's Eve party. Grab some grapes, slip into your best yellow pants and have a fantastic New Year.

Paz, amor y prosperidad and a Feliz Año Nuevo pa' to' mi gente!

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