As the midnight hour nears on the night of December 31st, Spaniards have already had dinner with their families, and unlike Christmas Eve traditions that call on family members to remain together at home, tonight they’re hitting the town dressed up in their most formal attire. They’ll also be carrying a bottle of cava or cider –the most chic may have champagne- and a package that contains one of the ritualistic elements that best characterizes Spanish tradition: the twelve grapes, las doce uvas de la suerte. In the main square of the city or town, anxious crowds huddle together to stay warm as they stare together at the clock on the tower or the church, watching as the clock hands slowly join to make a perfect vertical line. The clock bells first strike what’s known as the fourths, los cuartos, and it’s important not to confuse these with the bell chimes that come shortly afterward which mark the beginning of the New Year. The tension rises as all gazes remain turned up at the clock. As the first bell chime resonates, like an anthropological ballet, hands carry the first grape to lips and then repeat until the twelve are gone. Calls of “¡Feliz Año Nuevo!” are heard as folks hug and kiss one another –it doesn’t matter if you actually know the other person- as they wish each other the best for the New Year.
Of course there are those that prefer, for a number of different reasons, to celebrate this ritual in the family room at home, in the waiting area of the emergency room, or at the fire station that’s on call for the night, in front of the T.V., which inevitably shows the image of the emblematic center of this fiesta, the reference clock on New Year’s Eve: the clock at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, kilometer 0 in Spain. The grape ritual is also observed in front of the TV.
The tradition of celebrating New Year’s Eve by eating twelve grapes probably originated in 1909, when Vinalopó grape producers promoted consumption of the fruit due to an overproduction that occurred that year.
After having the twelve grapes, often followed by firework displays, New Year’s festivities continue with celebrations organized by private establishments, or in areas with climates that permit it, parties outside in town squares.
In some places such as Pamplona, Coín (in Malaga), and Nájera (in La Rioja), a special celebration is emerging on New Year’s Eve in which party-goers dress up in costumes, as if it were Carnaval, to say good bye to the old year and to welcome the new.
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!