As New Year’s Day approaches, Spaniards rush to their local groceries to stock up on cartons of grapes. For hundreds of years, it’s been a tradition in Spain to bring in the New Year by eating 12 grapes in time with the midnight chimes of Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. Most people believe these 12 grapes are meant to symbolize good fortune for the upcoming 12 months, but how this tradition got started is a bit of a mystery.
History Of The 12 Grape Tradition
We do know from records in the 1800s that Spanish aristocracy often ate grapes on New Year’s Eve. Most historians believe the peasantry in Madrid must have copied this grape-eating custom in an attempt to mock the elite. The largest of these popular celebrations was in Madrid’s central square by the Puerta del Sol. Scholars believe Spanish farmers helped spread the tradition throughout the nation to increase demand for their surplus of grapes in 1909. It’s unknown, however, whether the 12 grape custom started with the peasantry or if the farmers invented it in the early 20th century.
Since the story of the 12 grape-eating tradition takes place in Madrid, it’s important for Spaniards to time their 12 grapes accurately with the Puerta del Sol. No matter where they are in the world, every Spanish household will have a live-stream of the Puerta del Sol on a TV or computer to accurately time their grape eating. According to popular belief, if you’re able to eat all 12 grapes within the 12 chimes, then you’ll have a happy & healthy New Year. Some Spaniards living outside of the big cities even claim this yearly ritual can help ward off evil spirits, although this is considered a folk belief by most people today.
When To Eat The 12 Grapes
It’s important for anyone interested in taking part in this tradition to understand how the Puerta del Sol’s chimes work. Many people mistakenly eat their first grape before the official first bell rings. This is because about 30 seconds before 12AM a ball at the top of the clock tower is released to strike the bell. When the ball hits the bell you’ll hear some ringing before the actual 12 strokes of midnight. Hold off eating your grapes until you’re sure the real chimes have begun.
Just like every other nation, Spain has its own unique traditions surrounding New Year’s festivities. The most famous of these traditions that survives to this day is eating 12 grapes in time with the Puerta del Sol. If you’re fortunate enough to visit Spain during this time of year, or if you just want to try something different this New Year, be sure grab yourself a handful of grapes…preferably the small and seedless variety, of course!