The beauty of an old year yielding to a new one is celebrated through countless traditions: some sparkly, others savory. But one tradition, originated by the Spaniards, is both sweet and savory and promises the fortune of good luck in the coming year.
From the age of 10, Belkys Alvarado Butler — originally from Venezuela — always ate 12 green grapes at the stroke of midnight. The twelfth hour would sneak up on her and her family and clusters of the berry would be hastily prepared before the countdown began.
“It’s gonna be 12 o’ clock, you have to finish before 12 o’ clock,” she laughed, recalling how she would start eating her grapes a minute before so she could finish before the last chime.
One grape at a time and in unison with the midnight chimes, the New Year is welcomed with grape-filled smiles and adrenaline, each participant chewing for good luck.
IT ISN’T ALL FUN AND GRAPES
The dinner is just as important as the midnight tradition, and many families will gather on New Year ’s Eve to share a savory family dinner of pernil, and pan de jammon, a Venezuelan holiday staple consisting of a wine-doused, olive, onion, garlic stuffed pork leg and ham stuffed bread with olives and raisons.
“And the chicken salad — that’s always … that’s the Venezuelan [way] and that has to be at the table,” Butler said.
Butler’s New Year’s table is also stocked with plenty of hallacas, a sort of tamale made of three kinds of meats, olives and peppers. It is usually prepared as gifts for loved ones.
New Year’s for Butler and her family is about being with loved ones and she said, “[At midnight] families get together and we hug.”
For others, it’s more about remembering those who aren’t there with you, and she recalled an uncle who would cry every year for those who couldn’t be there to celebrate.
No matter where you celebrate or who you celebrate with, eating grapes is a must-do tradition and Butler has passed this tradition to her children and nieces and nephews.
Eating a dozen grapes on New Year’s dates back to at least the 1800s and is thought to bring a year of good fortune and prosperity to whomever finishes in time. It is also believed the grapes keep away evil spirits and witches, but this is considered old heritage.
Today, eating grapes at midnight is simply a new year’s tradition meant to bring families together and share in the memories of another year gone by. Much like the famous ball drop in New York or the time ball and clock of the Royal House of the Post Office in Puerta del Sol (broadcasted in Spain) communities will find the center of celebration and play an active role in celebrating the last moments of the old year, together.
SIX DIFFERENT GRAPE EATING PROFILES
1. The Zen Master, who “starts the new year fully in the moment”, methodically lines up and consumes their grapes one by one.
2. The Full Frontal, who embraces the new year with a mouthful of grapes
3. The False Starter, who begins eating the first grape before midnight
4. The Reina Isabel, who prepares each grape before hand by cutting them in half
5. The Exhibitionist, who shows off
6. The Drunken Style, who makes the attempt to eat the grapes but inevitably ends up laughing in the middle and doesn’t finish.
(courtesy The Food Republic, an exploratory food culture site)