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.
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.
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.