North Carolina’s “possum-drop” makes top 10 but top is… Hanging out in a graveyard with dead relatives (Chile)
• Trying to hear animals talking (Romania)
• Banging bread on the walls to dispel bad spirits (Ireland)
• Flinging furniture out the window (South Africa)
Badoo.com, the world’s largest social network for meeting new people, will soon gain their 200 millionth member sign up. To celebrate this, they conducted a global poll to find which NYE tradition trumped all from a range of eccentric and distinctive local customs.
The title of the world’s “strangest New Year’s custom” has been awarded to one unique to town in central Chile, where locals gather late each New Year’s Eve in the town cemetery to welcome the coming year in the company of dead relatives.
The only American custom to make the top 10 was the world’s only known “possum-drop”, which takes places each New Year’s Eve amid some controversy in the North Carolina town of Brasstown.
It ranked sixth in Badoo’s poll, behind such other customs as… banging bread on the walls to scare away bad spirits (Ireland); trying to hear animals talking (Romania); and throwing furniture out the window of tall buildings (South Africa).
Badoo asked 7,200 users across 18 countries to vote for the world’s “strangest” custom for celebrating the New Year.
The winner was the annual New Year’s Eve gathering the municipal cemetery in the town of Talca in central Chile. But then what’s strange for some is tradition for others.
This Talca custom is thought to have started when one local family broke into the graveyard on the last night of the year to be near their dead father. Since 1995 it has been a local tradition. The town’s mayor now opens the graveyard gates around 11 pm on New Year’s Eve, after the end of late-night mass, and thousands of locals assemble to welcome the New Year with dead relatives and friends. The cemetery is lit with candles, while classical music plays.
Talca’s tradition, however, also reflects the broader Latin American custom of remembering the dead on the annual Day of the Dead, typically in early November.
“It’s not a mournful time but a wonderful, happy way for families to get together and preserve the memory of loved ones who have died”, says Mary Andrade, who runs www.dayofthedead.com and is author of the book, Day of the Dead: A Passion for Life. “The belief that the soul comes back every year, to be honored by relatives, is a legacy of pre-Hispanic civilizations that believed in life after this life.”
The tradition has many local variations across Latin America. In Talca, New Year’s Eve is considered a particularly good time to honor the spirits of the dead.
Second place in Badoo’s poll for strangest New Year’s custom went to the Romanian ritual, practiced particularly by farmers, of trying to hear animals talk. If they succeed, it’s a bad omen; if they fail, it’s good luck.
Third place went to another tradition designed to bring good luck – the Irish custom of banging Christmas bread on the walls and doors of the house at midnight, in order
to dispel evil spirits and the bad luck they bring. It stems from the belief shared by various cultures that making maximum noise at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve will scare away bad spirits.
Ranking fourth in the poll was the tradition of flinging furniture out the window. Like the Thai custom of welcoming the New Year with a giant, three-day water fight – rated the tenth strangest custom – it’s based on the idea of purification and starting afresh.
It’s practiced with most gusto in the Hillsboro district of Johannesburg, South Africa, where locals welcome the New Year by flinging everything from old microwaves to entire beds through the window, often from tall buildings, causing safety concerns for the local police.
The tradition is also still observed in parts of southern Italy, where locals don’t want any old junk to accompany them into a New Year and so chuck unwanted possessions out the window.
Fifth place went to the Siberian custom of cutting a hole in the ice covering Lake Baikal and diving to the lake’s bottom while carrying a New Year’s tree. Note: only professional divers participate.
This was followed in sixth place by the controversial New Year’s custom in the North Carolina town of Brasstown where a possum in a transparent box is lowered over a crowd, in the world’s only known “possum-drop”. It reflects Brasstown’s claim to be “the possum capital of the world”.
The animal rights group PETA, among others, condemns the custom as cruel, and petitioned for the live animal to be replaced with a stuffed one, but the event’s organizers disagree, saying: “The opossum is not actually ‘dropped,’ it is lowered with great care. We treat our little friend with respect, hold him in awe, and do not inflict any injury or traumatize God’s creature of the night.”
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