Sunday 1/16/22

The twelve grapes of luck, the great Spanish New Year's Eve tradition

Every New Year's Eve millions of Spaniards eat twelve grapes to attract fortune and prosperity
Traditional white grapes like those that Spaniards massively eat on New Year's Eve. Photo: Pixabay.
Traditional white grapes like those that Spaniards massively eat on New Year's Eve. Photo: Pixabay.

Every New Year's Eve millions of families in Spain stand in front of the television or radio to listen to the traditional twelve chimes of the Madrid Puerta del Sol clock, which officially mark the beginning of the new year.

And it is also traditional that they eat the so-called 'twelve grapes of luck' - one for each chime and one for each month of the year - at midnight before toasting with champagne or Catalan cava, to attract fortune and prosperity in the new year that begins.

The exact origin of this tradition is not 100% clear.

The most widespread theory states that the custom of taking the twelve grapes became a popular practice on New Year's Eve 1909.

The explanation is that that year there was a surplus of the grape harvest in the province of Alicante and some vine growers popularized this custom through a Christmas campaign that linked them to good luck to better sell huge numbers of grapes.

However, there are documentary records that suggest that this tradition is perhaps somewhat older, although linked to the elites. If so, what the vineyard harvesters did during the Christmas campaign was to extend this custom to all social classes in the country.

In fact, there are experts who place the emergence of this tradition in Madrid in the 1880s. And as in many other things in Spain, its origin could have been a protest mixed with festive and satirical overtones.

A rebellious tradition?

At that time, the Spanish high bourgeoisie copied the French custom of holding private Christmas parties where they drank champagne and ate grapes. And the Madrid city council banned Christmas street parties.

The people of Madrid, deprived of their entertainment, began to gather at the Puerta del Sol central square, where it was allowed to meet, to listen to the clock bells. And they also started to eat grapes as a mockery of the rich and in protest of the restriction imposed by the city council.

There are some newspaper articles dated 1882 that already describe this tradition. which maintained its rebellious character for years, before becoming normalized and spreading massively throughout the country.

Latin America, Philippines

This tradition of Spanish origin later spread to other parts of the world, mainly in Latin American countries and the Philippines.

It has also become increasingly popular among Hispanic communities in the United States.