One of the most unique Spanish traditions during the holiday season is the New Year’s Eve countdown. While the clock striking or the bell chiming away the last seconds of the year is a matter of practicality (we all want to know when the year ends and the new one starts), it is what accompanies the countdown that sets Spain apart.
If you’ve ever been in Spain in late December, you may have noticed that, as December 31st nears, shops stock up on grapes. Sometimes, they sell them in little plastic bags or baskets, already picked. If you pay close attention and count them, you will see that each bag contains exactly 12 grapes.
At this point, you may be connecting the dots already. 12 grapes, 12 months... it must have something to do with the new yaer. Bingo! You are right. The 12 grapes are eaten as the clock in Puerta del Sol in Madrid strikes the last seconds of the year, and if done correctly, you will have a prosperous new year.
But the task is not as easy as it seems. You need to eat a grape with each strike in order to have those prosperous 12 months coming your way. To make the challenge easier, the grapes sold for this purpose are without pips, as they are the usual culprits of not being able to swallow the grapes fast enough.
Actually, there’s very little swallowing going on during those moments. Between the excitement and the laughter, most people just about manage to stuff the 12 grapes into their mouths, leaving the swallowing for later. It’s a funny sight, no doubt, and it doesn’t help to get it right, but it’s such an important part of seeing in the New Year.
TV stations will televise the event from the rooftops of the buildings on the opposite side of Puerta del Sol’s clock. In the square below them there will be thousands of merry people with funky accessories on their heads (Santa’s hats, reindeer antlers, plastic glasses...), holding their grapes and waiting for the strikes to begin, and millions more will be at home watching it on TV.
It may sound like a simple thing to do, and you’d expect the Spanish to do it without a problem, but there have been some glitches, too, with TV hosts misguiding their audience as to when to start eating, TV stations playing ads during the final strikes...
Watch the video below to learn more about this tradition.
To make sure you get it right, here’s our checklist:
It starts with la bola (a big, gilded ball) slowly descending from the top of the clock tower.
When the ball reaches the bottom, it is time for cuartos, four double chimes (din-don).
After the last din-don, it’s the twelve campanadas! At this point you are expected to eat a grape with each strike. You get three seconds for each grape.
BONUS TIP 1 Buy small grapes. ?
BONUS TIP 2 Buy grapes without pips. ?
And if you are ever in Madrid at this time of the year, and you plan to eat your twelve lucky grapes and want to do it right, you can participate in one of the three rehearsals in Puerta del Sol. They take place at noon and at midnight on December 30th, and at noon on December 31st. But make sure you don't rehearse with grapes. It brings bad luck. Take with you some peanuts, M&Ms, or raisins.
Good luck and Happy New Year!
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