Travel Picks: Top 10 New Year favorites

BOSTON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - New Year is a time for fresh

starts, hopes, dreams and saying goodbye to the old year. At

this time of festive camaraderie and reflection, online travel

adviser Cheapflights (www.cheapflights.com) offers its Top 10

favorite New Year traditions from across the globe. Reuters has

not endorsed this list:

1. Germany & Finland

How about a spot of fortune telling to ring in the New Year?

Molybdomancy is an ancient technique of divination that

involves interpreting the shapes made by dropping molten lead

into cold water.

On New Year's Eve in Germany and Finland, family and friends

come together for a spot of lead pouring - Bleigießen in German

and uudenvuodentina in Finnish - and make predictions for the

coming year.

It isn't an exact science and there are no firm rules on

what the shapes actually represent. A bubbly surface can mean

money is coming your way; a broken shape misfortune. Ships refer

to traveling; a ball means luck; a monkey says beware of false

friends; and a hedgehog means someone is jealous of you. But

don't get too worried if you receive a bad fortune - the

predictions are just for fun.

2. Mexico

In Mexico, families celebrate New Year's (Vispera de Año

Nuevo) with a mix of religion, tradition, superstition and

special festive foods.

Families decorate their homes in colors that represent

wishes for the upcoming year: red for love, yellow for work and

green for money. For even more wishes, Mexicans eat a grape

(preferably seedless) with each of the 12 clock chimes at the

stroke of midnight, while making a wish with each grape.

To start the year with a clean slate, another tradition

involves writing a list of all the bad and unhappy events that

happened over the year, then before midnight the list is thrown

into a fire and the negative feelings of the past year are gone.

In keeping with the country's Catholic traditions, Mexican

sweet bread (Rosca de Reyes) is baked with a coin or charm

hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, whoever gets the

slice with the coin or charm is said to be blessed with good

luck for the New Year.

3. Wales

Calennig, the Welsh name for New Year, means New Year

celebration or gift and since ancient times the tradition in

Wales has been to give gifts and money to friends, family and

neighbors. Today, it is customary to give bread and cheese on

New Year's morning, with children receiving skewered apples

covered with raisins and fruit. In some parts of Wales, people

must visit all their relatives by midday to collect their

Calennig. That's a lot of bread and cheese!

4. Japan

The Japanese New Year (Oshogatsu) is marked with a range of

cultural and religious traditions from eating special family

meals and making temple visits to sending postcards. Since 1873

Oshogatsu has been celebrated on January 1, but traditionally it

followed the Chinese lunar calendar. misoka (New Year's Eve)

welcomes Toshigami, the New Year's god, and across the country

people celebrate with concerts, countdowns and fireworks as well

as more traditional activities.

It is customary to send handwritten New Year's Day postcards

(nengajo) to friends and family and the post office guarantees

any cards sent in time will arrive on January 1.

Food plays a big part in New Year's celebrations. People eat

a special selection of dishes called osechi-ryori, including of

boiled seaweed (konbu), fish cakes (kamaboko), mashed sweet

potato with chestnut (kurikinton), simmered burdock root

(kinpira gob), and sweetened black soybeans (kuromame).

Around 11 pm, people gather at home for one last time in the

old year and eat a bowl of noodles-long noodles are associated

with crossing over from one year to the next.

On the stroke of midnight, Buddhist Temples across the

country ring their bells exactly 108 times. One of the most

breathtaking celebrations takes place at the Zojoji Temple in

Tokyo where thousands of people gather to release silver helium

balloons carrying New Year's wishes into the midnight sky.

After the clocks strike 12, many families visit a shrine or

temple for Hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year).

On New Year's Day, the Japanese give money to children in a

tradition known as otoshidama. Money is handed in small

decorated envelopes called pochibukuro. The amount of money

given depends on the age of the child, but it is not uncommon

for kids to get more than ¥10,000 (US$120).

5. Philippines

In the Philippines, New Year's Eve (Bisperas ng Bagong Taon)

is a public holiday and people usually celebrate in the company

of family and close friends. Traditionally, most households host

or attend a Media Noche (dinner party).

Most Filipinos follow a set of traditions that includes

wearing clothes with dots (in the belief that circles attract

money and fortune) and bright colors to show enthusiasm for the

coming year.

Throwing coins at the stroke of midnight is said to increase

wealth as does serving circular shaped fruits and shaking of

coins inside a metal can while walking around the house.

Things really get loud as people make noises by blowing on

cardboard or plastic horns (torotot) banging pots and pans,

playing music, or lighting fireworks to scare away bad spirits.

6. Scotland

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and

has become one of the world's most recognized New Year's

celebrations.

The roots of Hogmanay date back to the celebration of the

winter solstice, incorporating elements of the Gaelic

celebration of Samhain.

There are many customs, local and national, linked with

Hogmanay. The most widespread is the practice of 'first-footing'

which starts immediately after midnight. First-footing involves

being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or

neighbor's home and giving symbolic gifts such as salt, coal,

shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) to bring

luck to the householder. This goes on throughout the early hours

of the morning and into the next day, and can last well into

mid-January.

But it's not just about ancient traditions in Scotland. On

New Year's Day a new custom has begun to take hold - the Loony

Dook. Since 1987, the brave (and the mad) have taken the plunge

into the icy cold River Forth in Queensferry, Edinburgh for a

refreshing start to the year. A sure fire way to get rid of a

hangover, the event attracts thousands of Loonies, spectators

and swimmers alike.

7. Ecuador

One of Ecuador's quirkiest traditions sees men putting on

their finest frocks and dressing up as women to represent the

"widow" of the year that has passed.

However, the focus of the country's celebrations comes in a

much more fiery form.

At midnight, families and communities come together to light

fireworks and burn Monigotes - papier-mâché effigies - of

politicians, public figures and popular culture icons.

The puppets range from small, simple, homemade offerings to

giant, detailed, professionally made creations.

The puppets are filled with sawdust or newspaper and, in

some cases, firecrackers. Burning the Monigotes represents

getting rid of the bad feelings, events and spirits of the past

year.

8. Greece

While Christmas in Greece is a relatively solemn occasion,

New Year's Day is filled with celebrations and gift giving.

January 1 is the name day of Aghios Vassilis (St. Basil), the

Greek Santa Claus, and many customs are based upon his arrival.

On the morning of New Year's Eve, children go door to door

and ask permission to sing kalanta (carols) to bring good wishes

to their neighbors, announce the coming of Aghios Vassilis and

bless the house.

Later in the evening, families gather for a meal of roast

lamb or pork and an extra place is set at the table for Aghios

Vassilis.

An onion is hung on the front door (alongside a pomegranate

that has been hanging since Christmas) as a symbol of rebirth

and growth.

Around midnight the household lights are switched off and

the family goes outside. One lucky person is given the

pomegranate and smashes it against the door as the clock strikes

midnight.

As the New Year rolls over, Greek families all over the

world cut into a cake - the Vassilopita - bearing the name of

Aghios Vassilis. Each Vassilopita is baked with a coin or

medallion hidden inside and whoever gets it will be rewarded

with good fortune in the New Year.

9. Italy

As you might expect, New Year's celebrations in Italy start

with eating a whole heap of delicious foods.

The evening begins with the traditional dish, "cotechino e

lenticchie." Cotechino is a savory pork sausage that contains

"lo zampone," the actual hoof of the pig, and is a symbol of

abundance. Lenticchie (lentils) are believed to bring good luck

and prosperity in the coming year to those who eat them on New

Year's Eve and represent the money that you will earn in the

coming year. So the more you eat, the more you!

If you're looking for love, or a bit of help in the

fertility department, red underwear is the way to go on New

Year's Eve. To complete the ritual, these red delicates must be

thrown out on January 1.

Sadly, several of Italy's more wild New Year traditions are

rarely seen today.

In the past, people would throw old personal effects out

their windows (it doesn't hurt to be wary of open windows on New

Year's just in case) and smash plates, glasses, vases and other

pottery against the ground to drive away bad spirits.

10. Chile

The citizens of Chile have developed a range of traditions

to bring them luck and help make their wishes come true in the

New Year.

Several sure-fire ways of scoring yourself some good fortune

involve food and drink. Eating lentils and downing a dozen

grapes - one for each month of the year - on New Year's Eve will

ensure prosperity in the coming year as will drinking a glass of

champagne with a gold ring inside.

Sticking a "luca" (1,000 Chilean peso ($2.10) bill) in your

shoe before midnight will see it multiply in the coming year

and, if you're feeling generous and want to spread the good will

around, give your friends, family and neighbors ribbon-wrapped

sprigs of wheat at midnight.

But it's not all about money.

Wear yellow undies for romance, wear them inside out for a

well-stocked closet and wheel your luggage around the block if

you're dreaming of travel.

($1 = 475.1500 Chilean pesos)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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