New Years in Naples and the Amalfi Coast
There are some things you should know before spending New Years Eve in Naples or the Amalfi Coast. First, Neapolitans like to throw things--- lots of breakable things. When the clock strikes midnight toilets, teacups and everything in between are ritualistically thrown out of windows into heaps and heaps of shattered glass, porcelain and general flying shrapnel. Second, on New Years Eve we wear red underpants. And third, be prepared for a wild ride because in a town where breaking champagne magnums and then sporting red lingerie is par for the course, anything—AND I MEAN ANYTHING can happen. The Amalfi Coast is only slightly tamer than Naples. But it is still raucous, rollicking and fabulous in ways only the South of Italy can be at party times. For your reading leisure (and preparation), I have listed the top five New Years traditions in Naples and the Amalfi Coast below.
Supposedly red panties bring good fortune if you wear them on New Years Day. When I lived in Brazil, wearing all white clothing and jumping into the sea brought good luck on New Years. Mercifully these two traditions remain as yet uncombined. Red represents, vitality, positive energy and fortune and slipping into a pair of fire engine red underpants before passing out on New Years Eve all but assures that you will get rich in 2018. So bring on the fire crotches.
Lentils and Cottechino
Since Roman times, Italians have eaten lentils on the first day of the year to bring good luck. The mini legumes resembled coins and thus came to symbolize money, money, money. Generally, we serve with fatty cotechino sausage that has been gently simmered for hours. The New Years Eve dinner is a gigantic fish feast and just as you feel you are about to pop, the clock strikes midnight and a nonna sniper attacks you with a spoon full of fatty pork and lentils. Because it’s tradition, and damn it, you need the money gods on your side.
After you have eaten several courses of fish and lentils and sausage, it is time for cassata. This cake of sheep’s milk ricotta, chocolate chips and colorful candied fruit completes the season of gluttony. This is a more delicious version of Anglo Saxon fruitcake. It comes from Palermo originally but has been crowning Neapolitan holiday tables since Norman times.
Breaking old shit after midnight New Years Eve is thought to be cathartic across all of Italy. Neapolitans, having a penchant for drama, take the breakage to an entirely diabolic level. Nonnas throw bottles and chairs out of high-rise apartment balconies and the epicenter of this mayhem is Naples Piazza Plebiscito where a gigantic ritualistic circle forms in the center of the piazza after midnight. Into this circle, Neapolitan young and old toss any breakable item into a gigantic pit of refuse. Magically, the trash is cleaned up by the next day. Beware of flying trash on New Years Eve in Naples, lest you meet the same fate as Cyrano de Bergerac.
How is it not shocking that Neapolitans love fireworks? Of course they do. Lighting things on fire that turn vibrant colors and make fun hissing noises. That is a natural Neapolitan pastime. In Naples there is a spectacular firework show after midnight at Castel dell’Ovo. In Amalfi there is a beautiful show on the seafront. Positano also puts on a terrific show that can be viewed from above in the Paipo neighborhood of Agerola. All of these official firework shows are fine and well, but the real fun comes from the inordinate number of private citizens launching Molotov cocktails and bottle rockets off their terraces. There is nothing quite like it in America. Neapolitans remain steadfastly unfazed by fears of terrorism and fire hazards. On the week between Christmas and New Years, the street vendors ditch their usual merchandise of fidget spinners, contraband cigarettes and selfie-sticks in favor of fireworks. I noticed a new brand of fireworks this morning called Liz and Dick with a Cleopatra effigy folded around some rather pernicious looking sticks. Somehow I think that is perhaps the best possible fate for those two crazy drunk star crossed lovers. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have turned into firecrackers to be launched over the Bay of Naples at midnight New Years Eve. I wonder if they packed their red panties.