Originally written on December 2020. Updated 2022
When clocks strike midnight on New Year’s Eve many revelers are engaged to pop champagne, set off fireworks, or kiss their partner. Others, instead, in Spain and parts of Latin America, as midnight nears on Nochevieja, or “old night,” the last day of the year, are stuffing 12 green grapes in their mouths, as an unusual attempt to ward off bad luck in the new year.
Traditionally, the camera of the main national TV channel focuses on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol while a pair of announcers in formal wear, above the thousands of revelers packed into the plaza below, repeat instructions once again. After the bells ring out four times in quick succession, there is a short pause and then begins a series of 12 chimes, one for each month.
At that first dong, Spaniards pop a grape into their mouths. There is little time to chew and swallow, much less savor, because about two seconds later there is a second dong and a second grape gets popped into the mouth, and on through 12 dongs.
If you eat all 12 by the end of the final bell’s toll (and wait….that doesn’t mean finishing with a half-chewed mouthful!) then you will have good luck in the new year (el año nuevo). On the other hand, If you fail to conscientiously finish your grapes by the time the clock stops chiming, you’ll face misfortune in the new year.
This popular tradition is a century or so old, though its exact origins remain debatable.
A common popular tale traces the tradition of the twelve lucky grapes, or locally know as “uvas de la suerte”, to grape farmers in Alicante, Spain, who cannily suggested the idea when they had a surplus harvest to unload in the early 1900s.
However, some 1880s articles about the tradition suggest it developed from Madrid’s bourgeoisie copying the French custom of drinking champagne and eating grapes on New Year’s Eve.
In any case, Spanish tradition eventually became a superstition that spread also to Central and South America.
About 80 percent of the lucky grapes come from the valley of Vinalopó in central Alicante, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Fleshy, deliciously sweet, and pale, almost whitish-green in color, they are a traditional variety called Aledo that, maturing late, are not harvested until November and December.
Local farmers protect the grapes from the sun, birds, and other pests by tying paper bags around as they grow. This process, which slows the grapes’ development and allows them to grow a finer skin, produces a grape that’s soft, ripe, and ready to be sold in twelve-packs in December.
If scoffing grapes at midnight isn’t strange enough, local folklore says you must do so while wearing red underwear like a bra, a sock, a garter, whatever. And, stranger yet, the undergarment should be given to you by someone else.
A third traditional lucky charm to accompany red underwear and grapes?
Drop a gold ring into your celebratory glass of cava (local champagne-style bubbly from Catalunya).
Just don’t swallow it… as that would, no doubt, be a harbinger of bad luck.
Images from web – Google Research