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By Claudia Quesito

Cosa fai a Capodanno? (What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?) is by definition the small-talk icebreaker during the week between Christmas and December 31. Capodanno is technically the first day of the year (capo means head, so Capodanno is head-of-the-year), but the word normally refers to the New Year’s Eve celebrations. The last day of the year is San Silvestro, hence the other name sometimes used for the celebrations. But what do Italians do on such a special night?

Young people normally go to parties, either at some friend’s (or a friend of a friend’s) place, at some kind of nightclub venue, or outside in the piazza, where concerts, shows, and fireworks are often organized. 

Families usually meet at someone’s place to have a big dinner—il cenone—and wait together for the mezzanotte. These gatherings often last until very late, with adults as well as kids eating, playing games, cards, or just talking. Sometimes, around midnight, especially in big cities, people join the crowd in the street or they go outside (on balconies, terraces, and gardens) to admire—or set off—fireworks.

The cenone menu is less strict and traditional compared to the Christmas’ one, but it always includes lentils, nuts, and grapes; they traditionally bring good luck for the new year. Lentils are particularly ubiquitous. Since they grow in volume when you cook them, they traditionally symbolize money—or better said, the hope of seeing it growing in the near future. 

Another tradition is to wear something red (preferably underwear), something new, something old, and something received as a gift. The red tradition goes back to the Roman Empire, when rosso was a symbol of prosperity, power, health, and fertility. Other tradizioni di Capodanno includes kissing your loved one under the vischio (mistletoe), toasting with spumante right at midnight (opening a bottle with a big pop is highly recommended), and throwing something old from the window, thus getting rid of the unwanted and welcoming all the good the new year can bring— though luckily this last tradition is not as common as it used to be, since it can be dangerous in highly populated areas!


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