Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight   One of the World's Weirdest Traditions
Photo: News Taco

The 12 grapes tradition

Years now, the Spaniards tend to start their New Year by swallowing 12 grapes in one minute when the clock strikes 12! Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, one for each stroke of midnight. By rushing to eat all of the 12 grapes in a minute, they start the New Year with a good dose of excitement and high adrenaline. Each one of the grapes is the equivalent of each month- if you manage to eat them all on time, then you’ll definitely have a happy New Year! If not, you’ll still make a big laugh out of it, trying to swallow the grapes without choking.

It’s true that the Spanish people get really passionate and competitive during this tradition; first time I experienced it (a few days ago) it took me a while to understand why they were looking so much forward to this tradition. Eventually I realised that it’s a part of their culture and that of course they cannot welcome the New Year without eating those grapes. It’s such a big matter to them that even if you turn on your TV at midnight you’ll see people live-streaming from a variety of neighbourhoods while counting out loud along with the chimes and eating those grapes all together.

Once you indulge you get the feeling. You see the excitement in their faces and you start the New Year with a big smile on your face! If you ever plan on spending the NYE somewhere around Spain, then do not miss the chance to participate in this bizarre but lovely Spanish Tradition, according to Itinari.

While in Madrid, you may go to the Plaza del Sol to celebrate along with the masses. Thousands of people meet at the Puerta del Sol to see in the New Year, singing, dancing and, of course, stuffing their 12 grapes in their mouths whilst downing their glasses of bubbly! For those not spending the NYE in Madrid, you’ll find that most towns and cities have similar celebrations in their main squares.

Eating Grapes on New Year’s Eve – History:

Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight   One of the World's Weirdest Traditions
Photo: Pinterest

Eating grapes on New Year’s Eve isn’t originally Mexican. It comes from Spain. Known as las doce uvas de la suerte (the 12 lucky grapes), Spanish eat a grape for every stroke of the bell at midnight on the 31st while it rings in the new year.

This tradition is surprisingly young, dating back to 1909—with evidence for the ritual dating back at least to 1895. Though it seems that eating grapes on New Year’s Eve was a relatively obscure custom before 1909, it was popularized as a custom when vineyards in Alicante used the ritual as a way to sell more grapes after a bountiful harvest that year.

Since then, it has spread to many Latin American countries and even the Philippines. However, eating grapes on New Year’s Eve in Mexico is especially prominent.

New Year’s Eve (or Nochevieja in Spanish) is a sacred time in Mexico. It is at this time that people eat their grapes, usually in one of two places: they are either gathering around the town square to eat grapes, or they are eating grapes on New Year’s Eve in their homes after their family dinner.

Eating Grapes on New Year’s Eve – Meaning:

Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight   One of the World's Weirdest Traditions
Photo: NPR

There are two general meanings for the eating of the twelve grapes. The first meaning is more common in Spain—but it can be found in Mexico. It states that each grape symbolizes a month in the coming year (January, February, March. . . and so on).

If the grape is sour, that month will be sour. If the grape is sweet, that month will be sweet. So you might want to buy grapes ahead of timeand then you can ensure that they have a chance to ripen before New Year’s Eve!

The other tradition is the more common one in Mexico. It states that you get twelve grapes and each one is a wish. You silently think to yourself of some facet of your life that you want to improve in the coming year.

Maybe you want a better relationship or a stronger career. Perhaps you want someone that you love to better their health. Whatever your desires, you get to wish them while you’re eating grapes on New Year’s Eve in Mexico during those 12 seconds.

New Year’s grape eating styles

Through years of observation, we have discovered six common profiles of those who’ve been (mostly) successful achieving this feat, which we offer as a guide for your New Year’s grape eating:

  1. Zen Master – Neatly lines up the grapes and methodically eats them one by one, while meditating on the sound of the 12 chimes. Starts the New Year fully in the moment.
  2. Full Frontal – Embraces the New Year with gusto by shoving all of the grapes in their mouth at once. Worries about swallowing them later.
  3. False Starter – Anxious about getting all 12 grapes down, starts eating the first one before midnight strikes, which doesn’t count and is said to bring bad luck.
  4. Reina Isabel – Prepares grapes in advance by cutting them in half. Eats them with a fork from a plate. Eating the grapes by halves may be less authentic, but it is the best method for small children, and for anyone worried about looking like a slob.
  5. Exhibitionist – Also known as “el chulo.” Sees grape eating as another extreme sport, or just a chance to show off. Starts the New Year with an ego boost, by throwing the grapes in the air and catching them in their mouth. Requires secret pre-New Years’ Eve practice.
  6. Drunken Style – Makes an effort to eat the grapes but cracks up, starts talking, drinking, hugging or otherwise gets distracted midway through the 12 grapes. This is, needless to say, what happens most often.

*Another quick bit of advice:

Make sure you start to eat the grapes when the official chimes start. Many people get confused as there are four other double chimes just before the clock strikes twelve.

*Here’s the whole sequence so that there are no mix-ups:

35 seconds before midnight a ball at the top of the Puerto del Sol clock tower starts to fall towards the main bell.

Once it gets to the bottom you will hear four double chimes (Many make the mistake of starting to eat the grapes at this point but you have to wait…)

As the clock strikes twelve you will start to hear the 12 chimes – one approximately every 3 seconds – now is the time to start eating your grapes!

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