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Twelve Grapes for New Year’s Eve

If you live on the East coast on December 31 you might celebrate the coming of the new year by watching the descent of the famous Times Square ball but if you were Spanish you would probably be eating 12 white grapes as the clock tower bell of Puerta del Sol in Madrid rang at midnight. The custom is actually widespread and is practiced in , Portugal, Mexico, other Latin American countries, the Philippines, and by Hispanics in the United States.

According to the tradition, each grape represents a month of the year and must be eaten as the clock chimes twelve times on New Year’s eve to ensure good luck for the coming year. You hope that all the grapes are sweet and tasty because that means the months each grape represent will be good ones for you; a sour grape, on the other hand, could foretell a difficult month. If you are unable to eat all the grapes the maximum benefit will be lost. You might think that it is easy to eat 12 grapes in about 12 seconds, but its not. Try it and you will find that it is not an easy task and you might want to prepare ahead, as many of the Spanish do. Here are some suggestions:

Use seedless grapes (no point in having to spit out or swallow seeds.)
Peel the grapes (chewing and swallowing the skins can slow you down.)
Put your 12 grapes on a small plate or container so you have easy access to them.
Add a 13th grape for extra good luck (as they do in Peru)

If you don’t want to do any of the above you can buy 12 prepared grapes in a special container (but you may have to search to find them.)

You would think that such a popular and widespread tradition would be very old but this one is not. It is said to have originated in 1909 when there was a over abundant crop of grapes and the growers came up with this idea of eating grapes to celebrate coming in of the new year to sell their grapes. This origin of the custom is a bit disappointing but perhaps the origin doesn’t matter because the value is in the fun and camaraderie that it brings each year.