Santiago, Chile — Yellow underwear is flying off the shelves these days in the Chilean capital Santiago, where tradition holds that it brings prosperity and love if you wear it on New Year’s Eve.
That’s just one of many colorful New Year’s rituals in Latin America, where some spend the evening walking around with a suitcase, others put potatoes under the bed and still others throw buckets of water out the window.
“The yellow underwear is for love, luck, money and so that this year will go well for everyone,” says Gladys Leal, a saleswoman at a lingerie stand in Santiago’s Meiggs neighborhood.
This time of year, she specializes in yellow undergarments in all shapes and sizes, for women and men alike.
But there’s a catch, says her colleague, Jesica Silva: “The underwear has to be given as a gift to bring luck.”
Yellow, she says, “represents the golden rays of abundance and prosperity.”
Some even say the undies should be worn inside-out to guarantee a year full of passion.
“Beyond yellow lingerie, the tradition is more tied to the color itself,” says Chilean writer Hector Velis-Meza, author of a book called “The Secret History of Christmas and New Year’s.”
Yellow is seen in Latin America as a symbol of the sun, an eternal light, he says.
Chile is not the only country that adheres to the tradition.
It also exists in Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, with slight variations. Some say you should wear red undies for love, yellow for money.
In Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, pink is the color of choice.
And in Venezuela, revelers are supposed to wear only new clothes — a tall order this year as the once-booming oil exporter struggles through an economic crisis.
Buckets of water: For some, it is indispensable to welcome the New Year by eating lentils.
For others, it’s 12 grapes — one at each strike of the clock at midnight, a tradition inhered from Spain.
In many countries, revelers ring in the new year by walking around the neighborhood with a suitcase, a ritual meant to guarantee a year of journeys.
In Uruguay, people often throw buckets of water out the window to wipe the slate clean for the new year.
Some throw their old calendars, too.
In Brazil, many people dress in white and make offerings to Yemanja, the goddess of the sea in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble.
Thousands of people swarm the beaches of Rio de Janeiro each year to launch makeshift boats with flowers and other gifts for Yemanja, seeking love, happiness or money.
Colombians meanwhile put potatoes under their beds to bring good luck.
And in Peru and Ecuador, revelers burn in effigy politicians and others they loved to hate in the outgoing year.
The custom has its roots in ancient indigenous practices in the Andes mountains.
But for the most part, the region’s rituals have their origins in European traditions imported by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors, says Velis-Meza.
That is the case for both the grapes and the lentils.
In Europe, the custom was to eat lentils, a hearty dish, in preparation for winter, he said.
In much of Latin America, though, New Year’s falls in the middle of summer.