Wednesday, January 05, 2005

12 Grapes at Midnight

It's New Year's Eve. You have 12 grapes in front of you. As the clock strikes twelve, you eat a grape with each strike of the clock, making a wish on each grape as you go. Better eat fast.... and have those wishes ready!

I've often wondered if your first wish should be to not choke on the grapes....

I first learned of this tradition through my friends in Madrid about 20 years ago. In fact, Madrid seems to be the epicenter of the 12 uvas tradition, since it is the strike of midnight at the clock in Puerta del Sol that launches a mass downing of grapes throughout the country. Just as people in the United States watch the ball drop in Times Square at midnight, the Spaniards keep their TVs tuned to the clock in Puerta del Sol, to know just the right second to begin.

The history of the tradition apparently has something to do with grapegrowers in Spain having an overabundance of grapes in 1909, and starting this tradition as a way to get rid of them!

Since I had always associated this tradition with Spain, I was surprised and delighted to find a small basket of grapes on my table for a Fin de Año celebration last week in Mexico City. My friends and I were wondering how we could eat twelve grapes in about twelve seconds, and make twelve wishes at the same time! The pressure seemed immense..... so we wrote out our wishes beforehand. When the clock struck twelve, we were ready, and the grapes were a delightful way to welcome the new year.

I started to wonder how far the tradition of the twelve grapes had spread. I did an informal survey, asking students in my classes if they had ever heard of this tradition from family members or friends who are Spanish-speaking. Students who had connections with Venezuela and Colombia said that they had. My one student from Panama and several students from Puerto Rico had ever heard of it.

One day, I'd love to do a map to trace the trajectory of the 12 uvas, from Puerta del Sol to....... how far? Has anyone heard of this tradition in other countries? If so, let me know!


Liz said...

It is a very serious thing to eat your 12 grapes(no matter if they have seeds) in Venezuela so it is to throw your lentils for abundance and please don't forget to make a toast with the sound of the bells(next year I will try to leave the grapes in the same champagne glass for less confusion) and please be ready with your suitcase by the door and don't forget to wear your yellow underwear ... I guess we need too many things and 12 wishes is not enough... Just back from Venezuela where we believe wishes can still come true...

Ruth Kunstadter said...

I had heard of all those traditions, but never realized you were supposed to do them all at the same time!

By the way, I know there's something about red underwear and something about yellow underwear. Is red underwear for love, and yellow for money? I think it was something like that. I would probably wear both – as I was eating and throwing lentils, running around the block with my suitcase, downing 12 grapes and drinking champagne at midnight.

Sounds like I'm going to have to spend my next New Year's Eve in Venezuela!

Nayeli said...

I heard they used to to this with raisins before. That would be so much easier! I made the same wish twelve times this year and hoped that I swallowed at least one of the grapes in time after stuffing them all into my mouth with each strike.