8 Bizarre New Years Eve Traditions in Panama

Many Panamanians are superstitious and have certain rituals they believe must be done as we cross from one year to the next.  Panamanians traditionally spend New Years eve with friends and family.

judas doll in panama

EFFIGY: Throughout Panama at this time of year, you’ll see effigies, or life-sized dolls made out of straw, in front of houses or along side the roads. The effigy, also called a Judas doll,  represents someone or something they dislike. They are sometimes called Muñecos. Some houses will have 1-2 effigies and some houses will have many.

The dolls are stuffed with firecrackers. At the stroke of midnight, they are lit on fire and beaten. According to folklore, by beating and setting the effigies on fire, the sins and evil spirits of the old year are destroyed. Making way for good fortune in the new year. The fire crackers are said to help drive the evil spirits away.

Instead of the Judas doll, I know some Panamanians who make a list of all the people they felt who have done them wrong throughout the year, then they burn the list on the last day of the year.

What a great way to start a fresh New Year!

sage ceremony in panama

SAGE: On New Years Eve, it is common for a Panamanian to open up all the windows in their house then sage (or smudge) the house to remove all bad vibes and bad energy. Panamanians want a fresh start to the New Year.  You should use a feather or your hand to move all the smoke which collects the bad energy out of the house.

This is not the sage you use for cooking.  Stores throughout Panama sell smudge white sage bundles.

Some Panamanians make a small alter for their sage ceremony by bringing in additional elements such as a sea shell, feather, brass bell, and raw egg. The shell represents the element water and the energy of Mother Ocean; the feather represents the energy of the winged ones; the brass bell carries the energy of the cosmos; and the egg is a symbol of life.

It’s also tradition to declutter and clean your house thoroughly before you start a sage ceremony.  It’s all about leaving the bad of the old year behind and starting the New Year fresh with good energy.

MONEY IN YOUR HAND: It is said that if you have money in your hand at midnight, then you will have a prosperous New Year.

WEAR RED: It is said that if you are wearing red as we pass from one year to the next, it will bring you love in the New Year.

WEAR YELLOW: If you are wearing yellow underwear at midnight, it will bring you good luck in the New Year.

PUT RICE IN A POT: Tradition says this will attract wealth in the New Year.

12 grapes tradition panama

EAT 12 GRAPES: As you eat 12 grapes at midnight, you should make a wish for the New Year. They also say that the grapes will predict what kind of year you will have. If your 4th grape is sour, then April may be a bad month. But if you get a sweet grape, that month will be a sweet experience.

The lottery is very popular in Panama. At midnight, you should spit out the grape seeds then count the number of seeds in each grape. These will be your lucky lottery numbers.

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS:    In Panama, it is customary to write down at least 7 New Years resolutions.  These could be things you want to happen or things you want to not happen in the New Year.  Many Panamanians believe that by writing the resolutions down and carrying them with you throughout the year, they are much more likely to come true.

And finally, fireworks are a way to celebrate the New Year and new beginnings!

FIREWORKS: Panamanians LOVE their fireworks. In addition to the fire crackers in the effigies, it is customary to have a lot of fireworks at midnight.  You can hear them all over the country. Here’s a youtube video of the fireworks in Panama City for the New Year’s celebration in 2019.

Maybe some of these Panamanian rituals would be a good tradition to start even if you don’t live in Panama!

Here are some Covid related Effigies (also called Judas Dolls) from December 2021

Mr. Fauci

Let’s punch out Covid!

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions


  1. Tom Keys says

    I can’t wait to participate in the Panamanians traditions. I would start next year if I was still going to be in the US, but I will be in Panama celebrating.

    • Jackie Lange says

      You will love living in Panama!

  2. Michael Schindler says

    We are in Coronado this season and seeing all of the effigies around town is great! The first time I saw some I didn’t know what they were for so I just thought they were cool roadside things to look at….

    • Jackie Lange says

      All the effigies are stuffed with firecrackers. At midnight on December 31, they will all be caught on fire so you’ll hear a lot of noise!

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