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New Year’s Eve in the Tropics

By Rona Coster

It’s soon time to ring in the new year, making it the perfect time to start your bona fide Aruban New Year’s traditions. Join me in starting off 2019 on the right foot!


The uniquely Aruban tradition of Dande (pronounced “Don-day”) probably got its name from the Spanish word dandare, meaning “wandering or going from one place to the other.” From New Year’s Eve until Epiphany (January 6), musicians, friends, and family members band together and visit homes all over the island, singing only one special song, in Papiamento, and playing typical string and percussion instruments. There is only one melody to Dande. It is a pleasantly repetitious tune: the lead singer composes a blessing, a wish for the new year, and the choir answers with the refrain “An-i-nobe,” which is not an existing expression in Papiamento, but probably a phonetic repetition of the Spanish expression “Hay un año nuevo,” meaning “A new year is here.” The lyrics of Dande are constantly improvised to. tailor a wish for each household member inspiring peace, joy, optimism, wealth, and health. At the end, a hat is passed around to collect tokens of appreciation.

Good Luck Tips & Dos and Don’ts for New Year’s Eve

In most Aruban homes, good luck for the coming year is believed to be within reach if certain rituals and traditions are properly followed on New Year’s Eve. Some of the rituals revolve around sweet-smelling perfumes and incense that symbolize cleanliness, purity, prosperity, and eternal good luck. The removal of bad luck, Saka Fuku—symbolized by the removal of dirt and bad smells—and the bringing in of good luck are serious occupations on New Year’s Eve.

  • At midnight, make sure you have CASH money in your hand and in your purse. Not just credit cards. Hold your cash in the palm of your hand. More will follow if you do.
  • Step out of your house at midnight, making the sign of the cross, right foot forward, as a dose of bad-luck prevention.
  • Make sure the first person you hug and kiss after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s is healthy and wealthy. Do not hug back anybody who is needy. They will take away your good fortune if you do. For good luck purposes, hug a successful MAN first.
  • Burn incense everywhere. Do not overlook corners. My friends recommend traveling around the house with an old can containing a noxious, smoky, tar-like secret substance, stopping for a few minutes everywhere, for best results.
  • A little bread and sugar should be burned along with the incense so that there will always be bread on the table and a sweet, loving relationship in your life.
  • Make sure you get home before midnight to spend time with your family and friends—guaranteed to drive loneliness and misery away.

More about Saka Fuku…

Fireworks are unbelievably popular for the purpose of Saka Fuku on the island. The smoke and the noise are guaranteed to drive all that’s bad out and make room for all that’s good and blessed. Fireworks will be sold widely on the island between December 28 and the 31st. The average Aruban family will spend up to Awg 500 on Chinese-made fireworks, mostly on what is known on the island as pagara, a succession of smoky, noisy shells, erupting one after the other, culminating in a gigantic bang. They are set afire at midnight on December 31 in the hope of driving the evil spirits away. It always works.

pagara tradition in Aruba during New Years

Pagara Tips:

  • Direct the smoke from the pagara, especially the last blast, to your living room. Make sure all doors and windows are open. The smoke will cleanse the residence of all bad influences.
  • Sweep the red paper littering the street, better known as pagara leftovers, on January 2. Do not touch it on the first of the year!!! Leave it there to fly in the wind, good luck in tow.

A famous pagara is set off around noon on the 31st by the Renaissance Aruba Resorts in town, worth taking the trip into Oranjestad. Grab some lunch while you’re there. Another famous one is by the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino at 2 pm.

Happy 2019!

New Year's in Aruba
Image provided by Aruba Tourism Authority