Tag Archives: grapes

The 12 Grapes of New Years

Background: The informant is a 19 year old girl who is currently a college student in Chicago, Illinois. She was also born and raised in the city.  One winter break in high school, the informant did a study abroad program in Spain, where she was able to stay for 4 weeks and immerse herself in the culture

Context: The context was over a phone call, the informant was asked if had any New Year’s traditions, and she shared one she saw while overseas.

Text:

IT: In Spain, when New Years comes around, when the clock is clicking at the last 12 seconds, people will eat 12 grapes to represent the last year. If they eat all the grapes – which is a bit of a choking hazard – it’s considered good luck.

Me: Is it considered bad luck if you don’t finish?

IT: Hm, I don’t think it’s considered bad luck. I believe it’s like, you won’t have as much good luck as someone who did finish all the grapes. I was surprised when I saw them doing it because I’ve never seen it before. It was really interesting. Eating a certain amount of fruit is popular in a lot of places. It reminds me of Persephone eating 7 pomegranate seeds, symbolizing seven months of time.

Analysis: 

Informant: She was very excited to learn about a new culture, and it was interesting and impactful enough to her that she wished to share it. It seemingly stuck out more in her head than her own traditions.

Mine: Grapes are a unique fruit to choose and why they could be considered lucky is interesting. It could be because grapes bring in a large amount of money from the wine industry, hence, they become associated with wealth and good luck. It could be that given their shape, they somewhat represent a circle which could be time and the continuity of the year restarting. The comparison to Greek mythology is a great parallel, understanding that basic ideas and symbols can transcend the bounds of one society and into another. It doesn’t matter truly what the fruit is but eating the fruit symbolizes the same thing, it’s the concept that is the same.

12 grapes

BACKGROUND: My informant, IC, was born in the US. His entire family is from Ecuador and is bilingual (English and Spanish). IC and I were having a conversation about our families and party customs among immigrants and he brought up this custom that his family uses for good luck.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend. We originally started talking about our families and the different family parties we’ve been to and that eventually morphed into IC explaining a custom his family has on New Year’s.

IC: For new years, there’s 12 grapes that are meant to represent the 12 months in a year. Right before the new year, when it’s like 11:59, you eat all the grapes. Basically, after each grape you eat, you have to like, make a wish. Oh and — oo! Wait… (long pause) I’m literally stupid as sh-t, I just remembered um, during the new year too, like once it hits 12, you need to throw rice around your whole house. It’s supposed to be so that the next year you have food.

THOUGHTS: This custom is interesting to me because I feel like it is much more in line with the idea of the new year being a time of celebrating change and preparing for the future. In American culture, it is customary to give someone a kiss at midnight for good luck. The 12 grapes however are almost like 12 different resolutions, preparing the person for what they want in the coming year.

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.