On the night of Saint Sylvester (San Silvestro), December 31st, a worldwide party crosses countries and time zones. In general Italians celebrate like most others in the world often gathering to watch fireworks or setting off some of their own. Yet, if you celebrate New Year's Eve in Italy you will notice some cultural differences that are unique to the country. This article will touch on some of them as well as provide some suggestions on what to do if you'll be ringing in the new year in Italy.
New Year 2011 in Venice, Italy
First you should know that while Christmas is a family oriented holiday, Italians usually celebrate the New Year with friends rather than with family. There is even a saying that refers to this practice: "Natale con i tuoi, Capodanno con chi vuoi," which means "Christmas with your family, New Year's with whomever you like!"
Another important thing to take into consideration is that many Italians enjoy to get together in a private fashion, so by and large house parties are favored, although many, especially the younger generation, still like to go to clubs or public parties. Another very common thing to do is to attend dinner at restaurants with fixed priced menus; this event is called the "big dinner" (il cenone), an expression solely used for New Year's Eve. Also, it might be useful to know that the Italian name for New Year's Eve, "Capodanno," literally means "Head of the Year." Aside from eating and drinking with friends or family, fireworks and music often feature largely in Italian festivities as they do in North America.
Many Italians truly enjoy setting their own fireworks, although this sometimes creates safety issues, especially when actual firearms are used. Too often the safety aspects are only looked at after injuries, or in some instances death, occur. This is not acceptable and in the recent years serious campaigns have helped in preventing such accidents.
But, let's go back to the fun aspect and the celebration. Italians like to do small rituals to welcome the New Year. For example, they like to wear red underwear after midnight on the night of the 31st, or eat trotter and lentils (cotechino e lenticchie), as lentils are supposed to bring money. This however is strictly after 12, as the actual dinner usually is an early one and takes place around 8:30 or 9 pm. A very popular philosophy Italians embrace at "Capodanno" is to believe that if they do something on the first of the year, then they will do it for the rest of the year, therefore there is a rush to do all the things that anyone wishes would always happen. Italians on New Year's Eve also like to "throw away" the past year and it is usually done by throwing old stuff out of the window; this particular ritual is less common today, but in certain areas or neighborhoods is still practiced.
Capodanno a Roma
The actual midnight celebration, besides fireworks, is welcomed with the typical 10 second countdown followed by opening a bottle of champagne or "Spumante," the actual Italian version of Champagne. Another midnight tradition is to kiss your companion under a mistletoe (vischio) branch since according to Celtic mythology nothing bad happens to whoever kisses under a branch of mistletoe. Those who like to celebrate in public should also be advised that in Italy it is perfectly legal to drink on the street, therefore it often happens that Italians will take a bottle outside during the festivities.
Spending New Year's in cities like Venice, Florence or Rome is simply unforgettable as all these places are wonderful at night. Another great place to ring in the New Year is Naples where the traditional fireworks are second to none.