Grape Expectations: A Latin New Year’s Eve Tradition


jacinta lluch valero on flickr

New Year’s Eve in Spain or Latin America is, not surprisingly, one of the prime party evenings of the year. It’s also pretty much inconceivable without the famous ritual of the “12 uvas de la suerte,” or twelve grapes of fortune. Basically, amid much merry-making and toasting with Catalan cava (sparkling wine) or Asturian sidra (sparkling apple cider), revelers pop fresh grapes into their mouths – one for each month of the year, and one at a time for each stroke of midnight (this is not always easy, let me tell you, if you’re going to get them down the hatch on schedule). 

This fun practice, which dates back to 1890s Madrid, has been with my Cuban-American family since I can remember; at home we would sit around the TV with plates in our laps and try not to choke on the seeds (this was before the advent of seedless grapes, a happy day indeed for anyone partaking in this particular celebration). I confess that sometimes, in the rush to finish the job by the twelfth stroke, I would cram more than one of the juicy little orbs into my mouth. As far as I could tell, it never had an impact on my luck the following year.

In Madrid, the place to ingest your grapes is the Puerta del Sol (see video below), but it can of course be done anywhere. Over the years, the custom spread from the capital to the rest of Spain (with a push in 1909 by grape growers in Murcia and Alicante who had a little too much of a bumper crop that year) and then onward to Spanish America (though I understand in Argentina they substitute raisins for fresh grapes).

Regardless of where you find yourself tonight (or where you stand on the power of Vitis vinifera to affect your personal fortune), you might just want to give this very Spanish custom a try. It’s a tasty, healthy way to experience a traditional side of Latin culture.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!  See you in 2014!

image | Jacinta Lluch Valero