12 Grapes At Midnight: Spain’s Great New Year’s Eve Tradition, And Superstition
Discovering who is más macho at midnight
Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve is both a tradition and a superstition in Spain. Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, one for each stroke of midnight.
Americans may giddily greet the New Year downing a glass of champagne and grabbing a kiss at the drop of the ball. But the first 12 seconds of the Spaniards’ New Year are somewhat quieter and more intense, as everyone focuses on eating all 12 of the “miraculous grapes” that symbolize 12 lucky months ahead.
Eating the grapes pretty much guarantees starting off the year with a little adrenaline rush, and most likely some laughs. While the goal of getting the 12 grapes down in time can spark a contest of who is más macho around the table, the biggest challenge is more likely to be not gagging as you cram them in your mouth and try to swallow while laughing hysterically.
As Spanish cuisine has achieved a higher international profile in recent years, and tapas bars and Spanish restaurants have flourished, it’s probable that more non-Hispanics will be eating 12 grapes this New Year’s.
To add a continental flair to your New Year’s celebration, buy seedless green grapes (look for smaller ones) and separate them into portions of 12, one set for each guest. In Spain, the chimes are broadcast on TV. Otherwise, if you don’t happen to live near a church tower, or have a clock with chimes, you can download an iPhone app called G-Clock that chimes on the hour with a classic “bong.” (Chime apps for other mobile devices are also available.) Or just call out the 12 seconds starting with midnight.
Through years of observation, we have discovered six common profiles of those who've been (mostly) successful achieving this feat, which we offer as a guide for your New Year’s grape eating:
- Zen Master – Neatly lines up the grapes and methodically eats them one by one, while meditating on the sound of the 12 chimes. Starts the New Year fully in the moment.
- Full Frontal – Embraces the New Year with gusto by shoving all of the grapes in their mouth at once. Worries about swallowing them later.
- False Starter – Anxious about getting all 12 grapes down, starts eating the first one before midnight strikes, which doesn’t count and is said to bring bad luck.
- Reina Isabel – Prepares grapes in advance by cutting them in half. Eats them with a fork from a plate. Eating the grapes by halves may be less authentic, but it is the best method for small children, and for anyone worried about looking like a slob.
- Exhibitionist – Also known as “el chulo.” Sees grape eating as another extreme sport, or just a chance to show off. Starts the New Year with an ego boost, by throwing the grapes in the air and catching them in their mouth. Requires secret pre-New Years’ Eve practice.
- Drunken Style – Makes an effort to eat the grapes but cracks up, starts talking, drinking, hugging or otherwise gets distracted midway through the 12 grapes. This is, needless to say, what happens most often. Happy New Year!
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