Why the Spanish see in the New Year by gobbling up 12 grapes

As midnight approaches on New Year's Eve everyone across Spain will be clutching a very important talisman: 12 grapes to bring luck and fortune throughout the coming year.

Why the Spanish see in the New Year by gobbling up 12 grapes
Photo: Chris Oakley / Flickr

It’s essential for each grape to be popped in the mouth on the dong of each stroke of midnight, no mean feat when you are surrounded by giggling friends in a crowd of people.

To make things easier, supermarkets sell cans containing 12 small, seedless grapes, perfect for popping in your pocket and keeping them to hand wherever you decide to celebrate.

“Lucky grapes” sold at a green grocers in Madrid. Photo: Fiona Govan/The Local

But what are the origins of the tradition?

Ask your Spanish friends and see if they will be able to tell you – it will probably be something to do with how it all started with a ploy by winemakers to try and sell off a large surplus of grapes after a particularly fruitful harvest.

That’s probably true but it’s origins are meant to be more proletariat in nature.

The particular tradition of popping a grape in the mouth to the dong of the bells in front of the clock of Madrid’s Puerta del Sol has its origins in a working class rebellion against a tax imposed in 1882 by José Abascal y Carredano, the mayor of Madrid.

He reportedly imposed a tax of five pesetas (Spain’s old currency) on those holding parties on the eve of Epiphany – when the Three Kings roll into town on the night of January 5th – which meant only the wealthy madrileños could afford to celebrate late into the night after the free parade in the afternoon.

So Madrid’s working-class residents decided to stage their own celebration in front of the then mayor’s office in La Puerta del Sol and scoff a grape on each gong of the bell to make a mockery of bourgeoise dining habits, who thought it refined to have grapes with their champagne.

But beware, the tradition comes with a health risk

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) associations have for years warned that the Spanish tradition of wolfing down a grape for every one of the twelve chimes that rings in the New Year is not without its risks. 

They’ve told the public to buy seedless, skinless grapes and are even pushing for the time between dongs to be extended from three to five seconds to allow revellers to catch their breath more easily and swallow properly. 

People over the age of 65 are also considered to be a high-risk group for suffocation during this tradition and so to are young children, especially those under five.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


The bottomless lake in Spain with its own Loch Ness monster

It's not just Scotland that has it's own legendary monster, it might not be as well known, but Spain has one too.

The bottomless lake in Spain with its own Loch Ness monster

Spain is filled with enigmatic and quirky places, from witches’ villages to towns full of cave homes, so it’s not actually surprising that Spain has its own mysterious lake, complete with the legend of its own monster. 

It’s called the Laguna Negra de Urbión and is located in the province of Soria in Castilla y León.

Sitting almost 2,000 metres above sea level, surrounded by dense pine forests and towering granite rocks, it seems almost impossible to reach, allowing this secluded and secretive place, to remain unchanged for centuries.  

As the name suggests, the water here is so dark and the lagoon so deep that it appears almost black, causing people to believe that it’s actually bottomless. This alone has caused many mysterious legends surrounding the lake. 

READ ALSO: The story of the Spanish village that went from being called Black to White

The most famous of these stories is the La Tierra de Alvargonzález, by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. In this long poem, he describes how two sons kill their father and throw his corpse into the lake. But remorse makes them return to the place, where they are swallowed by “the water of the bottomless lagoon”.  

Legend has it that a monster lives at the bottom of the Laguna Negra de Urbión. Photo: José Antonio JG / WikiCommons

But even before Machado wrote these words, the writer Pio Baroja also spoke of the place in his novel El Mayorazgo de Labraz, where he recounted that in the lagoon “there is a woman who lives at the bottom and kills whoever approaches. Everyone who looks into that water dies”.

READ ALSO: The Spanish village where locals bet on where a donkey will poo

These stories have produced lots of mysteries and legends about the lagoon including the fact that it’s inhabited by a monster. Not unlike Scotland’s Loch Ness monster, this beast is rarely seen and lives way down in the depths of the lagoon. 

Many locals claim that they have seen this monster, but of course like, Loch Ness, nothing has been verified. 

The lake of course does have a bottom, experts believe it’s only around eight to ten metres deep, but because the water is so dark, this seems not to be the case. 

Whatever you believe about the mysterious lake, there are some things that are certain, it’s a spectacularly stunning spot, yet there’s something sinister about it too, which is why it’s inspired so many to tell stories about it.