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European countries ring in the New Year with everything from grapes and pig’s feet to red underwear and the requisite fireworks bonanza.

In Spain, most people celebrate New Year’s Eve, or nochevieja, by partying in the streets or attending private parties. Many restaurants, bars and hotels offer special deals in which dinner and champagne are included in one price.

Madrid, Spain’s capital, holds the biggest street party in Puerta del Sol, where it is a tradition for thousands of people to gather in the square and watch the clock tick down. The event is covered live on Spanish television and is akin to New York City’s ball drop in Times Square.

The biggest custom, however, involves eating grapes.

At midnight, people try to eat one grape for each chime of the clock. The trick is to eat a dozen grapes before the New Year. Those who do receive good luck.

It’s not easy and few people can stuff their mouth with the large grapes in time. But many people have fun trying.

Some cities, including Granada in southern Spain, hand out free bags of grapes in town squares. You might say it is a “grape” way to start the year.

In Italy, New Year’s foods and traditions vary from region to region, but a main theme running through the Mediterranean peninsula is the concept of “out with the old.”

Used to be, people really threw things — plates, glasses, pots and pans, old clothing and even furniture — out of windows and from balconies in hope of tossing out the bad things that had plagued the year and bringing luck in with the new.

And while it has tapered off because too many people walking below were getting conked by discarded items, one might still see the tradition followed today in small, rural towns.

The eating of lentils both at the stroke of midnight with sips of Italian spumante (sparkling wine), and again during the New Year’s Day feast, is a popular activity — lentils symbolize money. And many also eat the zampone, or pig’s foot, which is rich in fat and symbolizes a year filled with abundance, be it money, love, health — whatever the individual’s desire for the coming new year.

At Christmas, red intimate apparel for men, women, boys and girls is given to be worn on New Year’s Day.

Fireworks pop and boom for nearly 24 hours beginning on the 31st, with the skies lighting up especially as midnight approaches.

In Germany, New Year’s Eve, or Silvester, is celebrated similar to American festivities: noisily, merrily and with glasses topped off with sparkling wine or champagne just before the stroke of midnight.

In almost every German city, there are Silvester balls, with eating, drinking, dancing and singing. Some of the typical German new year food is split pea soup with sausages; meat or a cheese fondue; smoked pork chops with sauerkraut; and a heated and spiced red or white wine mixture.

A must for most Germans is to watch the televised play “Dinner for One.” The British comedy features a butler who serves four courses and drinks to his employer, Miss Sophie. She is celebrating her 90th birthday with four of her best friends. Unfortunately, all her friends have passed away and the poor butler is required to take each one’s place during each round of drinks to toast the birthday lady.

Citizens buy tons of fireworks and shoot them off at midnight.

All the noise and celebrations are just the way Germans display their hope for a gutes neues Jahr.

Jessica Inigo and Peter Jaeger in Germany, Sandra Jontz in Italy and Scott Schonauer in Spain contributed to this report.


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