12 Grapes at New Years

Main Piece:

Informant: My family does a lot of weird stuff for New Years. We’re a lot of Hispanics from Latin America and there are a bunch of different things. 

One pretty common thing to do is we eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Years’ Eve. And we do it for 12 sweet months, or twelve good months. I guess that’s what it signifies.

Interviewer: So everyone has their own grapes and they just pop them rapid fire, at around midnight? Like this has to be exactly at midnight?

Informant: Yeah, yeah it does. And the twelve grapes is pretty standard across Latinos. Like I have Cuban and Colombian and Venezuelan friends and they all do this. I usually don’t spend New Years at home, I spend it with friends or at a party or whatever. But no matter what I always bring with me a bag of 12 grapes to eat.

Interviewer: Do you know why grapes specifically? Cause I always thought grapes were known for being sour more than for their sweetness.

Informant: I actually am not sure why, to be honest. And it’s interesting cause where we’re from, Nicaragua, it’s very difficult to get grapes and apples and some other things. You either had to be somewhat wealthy or know someone who could get you grapes. They weren’t illegal or anything, they were just hard to come by. 

But we knew some people in the military. And the military had its own market at around Christmastime and that’s when and where we’d get our grapes. So we’d always have them, but only around Christmas time


My informant is a friend and a fellow student at USC. She was born and raised in Florida but her father comes from Nicaragua and her mother comes from the Appalachian region. This tradition is something she got from her father and is something her entire family does regularly. She got the story of the Christmastime market from her father as well. 


I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call


It’s very interesting to me that grapes are used when they are so hard to come by. From what my informant is saying this seems to be a widespread custom in Latin America. Or at least, all the countries they mentioned, Nicaragua, Colombia, Cuba, have trouble growing  grapes. So maybe the sweetness of the grape comes from its rarity, like it is something to truly treasure and that’s why it is chosen over other fruits.

Some quick research corroborates this tradition and some sources say that in Cuba, after eating the grapes, the person drinks sidra which is a Spanish cider. Additionally this all must be done within the minute or the person will face bad luck for the rest of the year. I guess you could call that “sour grapes.”