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 Year’s Eve with friends and family.

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 alongside the roads. The effigy, a Judas doll,  represents someone or something they dislike. They are sometimes called Muñecos. Some houses will have 1-2 effigies, and others will have many.

can you guess who these people are?

When it’s an election year, like 2024 will be, you’ll likely see a lot of dolls of the current president. Be on the lookout for effigies that look like President Cortizo.

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

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

What a great way to start a fresh New Year!

SAGE: On New Year’s Eve, it is common for a Panamanian to open up all the windows in their house and 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 that 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 altar for their sage ceremony by adding 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 a 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, you will have a prosperous New Year.

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

WEAR YELLOW: Wearing yellow underwear at midnight will bring you good luck in the New Year. (good luck finding yellow underwear)

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

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, 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 and then count the number of seeds in each grape. These will be your lucky lottery numbers.

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS: Writing down at least 7 New Year’s resolutions is customary in Panama.  These could be things you want to happen or things you want to not happen in the New Year.  Many Panamanians believe that writing the resolutions and carrying them throughout the year makes them 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 firecrackers 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.

YouTube video

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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