Tag Archives: grapes

Grapes and Red Underwear on New Years Eve

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this story from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. Her aunt taught her this and said it’s a Venezuelan tradition.

Text:

MV: You’re supposed to eat thirteen grapes in the last ten seconds of the new year. And if you do it, then that’s good luck. Also if you wear red underwear.

JS: Why grapes?

MV: I don’t know, that one’s just a weird challenge.

Thoughts:

Ritual transitional ceremonies such as new year celebrations often involve superstition and folk belief, as ways of marking a transition from one period to another. In other iterations of this practice, you eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. The element of skill and difficulty make this tradition a fun and competitive ritual. The tradition can be traced back to Spain, where the bourgeoise adopted it from the French, who ate grapes and drank champagne on the new year. The tradition was picked up by members of other classes who ate the grapes likely to make fun of the upper class. The fact that one is scarfing these grapes at a high speed can be seen as a mocking gesture towards the elite, who would daintily eat the grapes with their champagne, a way to mimic and critique the ways in which they cover up their pernicious and consumptive practices of economic exploitation with a mask of civility and decadence.

As for the red underwear, red symbolizes lust, luck, and life in many cultures. Being a Spanish tradition, the use of red resonates with the colors of the nation. The choice of garment suggests sexual overtones in this bit of folk superstition, with the new year as a time for new beginnings, creation, and sexual proliferation. The belief also, for the duration of the new years celebration, allows undergarments to be a topic of conversation, allowing for a less sexually repressed and euphemistic celebration, with the topic coming up more apparently to the surface.

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

Background:

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. 

Context:

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

Analysis:

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.”

Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight – New Year’s Tradition

Main piece:

IS: At midnight on new years, we eat 12 grapes. And each grape is like, a month of the year and it represents an aspiration or wish. So the first grape is january, and it’s what you want to happen in january, and then etcetera. And you have to eat the twelve grapes in under a minute. I always really loved this tradition because it always made me really hopeful. And it was a fun thing to do with family, too.

Context:

IS was born in the US, but his parents are from Mexico. This story was collected over a group phone call, talking about family traditions.

Thoughts:

I think this tradition is really interesting because it is one of the few that I have found pertaining to holidays that becomes something of a game. Because there’s a time limit and you have to be able to meet it, I feel like the added challenge makes this even more of a family activity. 

Peruvian New Years Tradition: 8 Grapes on Years

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons.
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Interviewer(MW): So you mentioned earlier that in Peru some holidays are celebrated differently?
AS: okay so I guess I’ll start off with New Year’s so there’s like two weird holidays that occur on New Year’s for Peruvians for some reason

AS: We do the normal thing where it’s like you used to stand by you wait until you know the countdown starts and you drink the champagne you do all that jazz.

AS: But the things that you do is after you drink the champagne you down like 12 grapes in the champagne each one’s supposed to be a wish so down your champagne you eat individual grapes as quickly as possible

MW: I’ve spent New Years in Lima, I know they have some interesting New Years Practices, so are there things that do you have any particular set things that you associate with the grapes like there’s some things that you’re supposed to wish for?

AS: There isn’t anything you’re supposed to wish for I think, like generally it’s stigmatized in Latin Society for good health to be a thing or like wish your family good health like general well-being.

AS: I guess would be something that people would would generally stick towards at least want to do one or two wishes to be around there

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Analysis:
The use of champagne as a marker of the new year exists across culture but using fruit as a conduit for wishes ties the sweetness of the fruit to the hope for a sweet new year, this invokes a similar tradition to the Jewish Rosh Hashanah practice of dipping apples in honey for a happy new year. The wish too carries meaning, like a birthday the new year is full of promise and marks a transition and making a wish is a way to codify that promise in a fun and festive way. Likewise AS’s note that there’s a focus on well-being represent anxieties about that transition, the bitterness of the alcohol in the wine might invoke this anxiety, tinging the sweetness of the grapes with a fear of the unknown and the challenges that the new year will bring.

There are 12 wishes as well, this factors into the cyclical nature of the tradition as well as each grape likely represents a month of the year thus the wishes are meant to carry the participants through the entire year.

12 Grapes for the New Year

Main Text:

DC: “On New Years at 12:00 am you are supposed to consecutively eat one grape each second for a total of 12 grapes in 12 seconds for good luck in the new year.”

Context: 

Although I collected this from a Mexican woman who is my boyfriend’s sister-in-law, I also witnessed and performed this tradition on New Years of this year while at a New Years celebration at my boyfriend’s family’s house. To give context, we all counted down along with the timer on the T.V. and my boyfriend’s mom was rushing around trying to give us all 12 grapes off the vine. It ended up being a mess with everyone dropping grapes and stuffing our faces while trying not to joke, but it ended with us all laughing and enjoying the company of each other. I asked DC why she thinks this tradition and folk belief has been passed aline within her family and others and she speculated that grapes is some cultures must be seen as lucky.

Analysis:

Recent articles say that the practice of eating grapes on New Years goes back to as old as the 1880s. In the 1880s, the bourgeoisie of Madrid were said to have celebrated the ending of the year by copying the French tradition of eating grapes and drinking champagne. This tradition then grew over time and led people tp believe that they needed to eat 12 grapes to have luck for all of the 12 months to follow in the New Year. Over time, this practice was used in order to mock the wealthy bourgeoisie and the ‘common’ people of Madrid began eating grapes to make fun of the practice that was performed by the wealthy middle class. Subsequently, this custom caught on and more and more people began to do it because they thought it would bring them good financial like if the Bourgeoisie of Madrid were doing it.

With the known history of grape eating as way to celebrate the end of a year being revealed, the belief in financial gain was probably a big pushing factor to many and encouraged them to share this belief and continue the custom. I feel too that media coverage also has encouraged the adaptation of said belief by larger parts of Europe, people in the United States and Even people in Mexico City. On New Years, the camera for the main national tv centers on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. Announcers then tell the instructions to all of the people in the audience and they then begin eating the 12 grapes. Centuries ago, TV was not around and these traditions had to be purely face to face, but that feudal folkloric model. With the introduction of tv and the Internet, people are now able to share cultures and practices all over the world in a way like never before even with people they have never met and will never meet in person. This new folklore model creates a world in which folklore can be spread all throughout the world to those with access to TV and internet in such ease that more and more people begin adopting and creating variations of other people’s traditions, like what I believe has happened here with the eating of 12 gapes on the New Year.

 

12 Grapes on New Years

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. When I prompted her for her knowledge of folklore/folk tradition/folk beliefs, she was reminded of her family’s New Years tradition.

 

Brianna: “We eat twelve grapes each — one for every month of the year. And when you eat each grape you make a wish. Oh, and you eat your grapes at midnight. It brings good luck for the year.”

 

Me: “And how do you know this tradition?”

 

Brianna: “I learned it from my grandmother. She passed the tradition down.”

 

Me: “And what does it mean to you?”

 

Brianna: “It’s just a nice superstition. Start of the year with something fresh.”

 

Analysis

Like my informant shared, this is a good example of a superstition or folk belief. It is also similar to a few other New Years traditions of eating special dishes with family members. My informant did not share why grapes were particularly magical, so it’s plausible that her family does this ritual out of tradition to feel a family connection.  

 

Eating 12 Grapes on New Year’s Eve

Interviewer: What is being performed? New Year’s Eve Tradition by Elisa Alfonso

 

Informant: Eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: It’s a Spanish tradition that is practiced in Cuba. I know about it because I do it with my      family every year and uh I learned it from my Cuban relatives, specifically my grandmother.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: Camaguey, Cuba

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: I don’t belong to it but I believe it comes from Catholicism.

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: From my grandmother

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: I know that it’s a superstition. And that each grape is supposed to represent a month of good luck in the New Year.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: I really like this tradition because it makes me feel more connected to my culture and my family and it’s a fun thing to do every year. I’ve no idea where this tradition comes from or how it started, but my family has been doing it my whole life. It’s just something fun to do together.

 

Context of the performance- conversation with a classmate

 

Thoughts about the piece- This reminds me of the marketing campaign by Nathan’s Famous to have a timed hot dog eating contest on July 4th and a little research shows that ‘las doce uvas de la suerte’ was also started by marketers- grape growers with a surplus crop. Eight million people watch a midnight broadcast from Puerta del Sol each year. The 12 grape rule can devolve into a competition because they should be swallowed before the clock stops striking. For some grape eating strategies check here: http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/12/28/12-grapes-at-midnight-spains-great-new-years-eve-tradition-and-superstition/

 

No More Hiccups

This informant is a sophomore student at USC.  I explained all the different types of folklore there were and he decided to share his his recipe for getting rid of the hiccups that his mother swore by.

First you eat a lot of grapes, like 6-8 until your mouth is pretty full.  Then chew them up and swallow them quickly followed by a big glass of water.  After the water goes down, hold your breath for as long as possible and only let out small amounts of air at a time.  Finally when you absolutely have to, take a deep breath and your hiccups will be gone!

I really didn’t even know what to make of this hiccups remedy, the grapes seem to be completely out of left field.  However, I have heard before that holding your breath can help.