This year, our 13-year-old daughter will be joining us from California over the holidays. She arrives before the end of the year, so we’ve been thinking about what to do with her on New Years Eve. We’ve investigated many different options and questioned our Yucateco friends about New Years Eve traditions. These are variations on popular Mexican traditions, but with subtle Yucatecan differences.
One tradition you won’t discover just walking around is the wearing of different colors to bring good fortune in the New Year. If a Yucateco wants more romance, they wear something red. If they want more wealth, they wear something yellow. One of our friends told us you have to wear colored underwear, another one said it could be any clothing in those colors. Now if you see lots of red and yellow underwear on the racks at WalMart here, you’ll know why. Other traditions include sweeping your house on the last day of the year to "sweep out" all the bad energy or bringing your suitcases to the door on New Years Eve and actually carrying them in and out of the house as many times as you want to travel in the coming year.
The next tradition is more well-known. At midnight, or as close to midnight as possible, it is traditional to eat twelve grapes. With each grape, you make a wish for the coming year. Usually your wishes are not secret, but expressed to the group. And we are told this is done solemnly and seriously, and needs to be completed before midnight. It is often ended with a champagne or Sidra toast. Sidra is a low-alcohol (5%) apple cider drink that even children are allowed to drink, and it is a lot cheaper than champagne, which appeals to the money-saving character of most Yucatecos.
Naturally, fireworks are very popular on New Years Eve. Street vendors sell Chinese brands for just this purpose from portable vending stalls around the historico centro, but you can buy Mexican-made fireworks all year long near the mercado from the same shops that sell piñatas, candy and party favors. Most of the fireworks here are designed to make a very loud noise. You can buy metralletas (machine guns – but it means fire crackers), cañones (larger fire crackers), voladores (rockets) in many different sizes, chifladores (whistlers) and barrepies (foot sweepers – they shoot sparks while spining on the floor). We’ve bought our share of these for the holiday. Merida sounds like a war zone on New Years. If we can’t beat ‘em, we might as well join ‘em.
In fact, most newcomers to Merida are surprised to find that many holidays here are celebrated as if it were a gringo Fourth of July. This includes Christmas Eve, when from dusk to around 3:00 am, the streets of Merida echo with bangs, booms and ratta-tat-tats. We’ve heard the current police chief is trying to restrict this tradition and that "good" explosives are harder to find. But when we purchased our fireworks, there was a sign on the counter limiting the sale to a mere 10 kilograms – roughly 22 pounds! When New Years Eve comes around, we’ll be able to hear whether or not the police chief has been successful, but we doubt it. Even if he is able to banish this tradition in Merida, it will certainly continue in the pueblos.
Another popular New Years tradition here is the burning of an effigy, or viejo, which stands for el año viejo (the old year). Families and neighbors often pitch in to buy a montón of fireworks. Then they create an effigy from old clothes, brooms, papier mache, whatever is handy. They stuff the viejo with fireworks, put it on the street corner for everyone to enjoy and then blow it up at midnight. The viejo is often a well-known politico, so we expect there will be more than a few Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Lopez Obrador viejos this year.
New Years Eve is mostly a family affair here in Yucatan. Young people might hang out at home with the family before midnight, but once those 12 church bells ring (one for each grape), they set out with their friends to the local disco. Ego (once called Anthrax or Cube) is probably the most popular and is located in the Montecristo neighborhood. There are others, ranging from Ay Caray! on Calle 60 or Envy just off of Avenida Colon and Reforma, to the Mambo Cafe in the Plaza Dorada. You can expect the usual dancing and drinking there, with probably the same kinds of hats, streamers and noisemakers that are traditional in the United States. Cover charges, which usually cost around $100-180 pesos, are going to be higher for this special occasion. But once you’re inside, drinks are included.
This probably isn’t an option for a couple with a 13-year old gringita, so we are considering more low-key venues at local restaurants. Villa Maria is having a special New Years Eve dinner, including such delicacies as Sopa Fria de Sandia (cold watermelon soup) and Pato al Oporto (Duck in a Port Wine sauce). Grapes and wine are included in the $600 peso per person price. The Hyatt is having a special New Years Eve dinner, as is the Fiesta Americana, the Intercontinental and the Holiday Inn.
We haven’t decided yet what to do, but we’re pretty sure it’s going to involve colored underwear, fireworks and grapes.
Dinner starts at 10 pm and goes to 4 am
Includes: buffet, refreshments, champagne for toasts, New Years Eve accessories (hats, confetti, etc.), a DJ with some sort of light show, and cochinita at 4 am before you go home. Alcohol is NOT included, so bring your own bottles.
Dress: Trajes y vestidos de noche (ballgowns and tuxedos… in other words, formal)
Cost: $635 pesos for adults, $430 pesos for children
Fiesta Americana 942-1111
Dinner starts at 9 pm and goes to 4 or 5 am
Includes: gala dinner with an international buffet, a free bar "nacional" (does that mean only alcohol made in Mexico is free? we’re not sure…) and a band called Grupo Virash.
Dress: Trajes y vestidos de noche (ballgowns and tuxedos)
Cost: $799 pesos for adults, $499 pesos for children (plus tips)
Villa Mercedes Intercontinental 942-9000
International buffet with "Christmas" food and a free bar until 3 am
Includes: Live music, New Years Eve accessories (hats, etc… )
Cochinita at 4 am
Cost: $690 pesos
Holiday Inn 942-8800
Dinner includes Prime Rib, ensalada nochebuena (Christmas salad), Turkey and other special food. Live salsa music.
Cost: $499 pesos for adults, $299 for children (plus tips)
Villa Maria 923-3357
Dinner includes a choice of entrees and main courses, grapes and drinks.
Cost: $600 pesos per person (plus tips)