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.
This is a transcription of the informant’s New Year’s Day tradition.
“Every New Year’s Day we always go over to my brother’s house with all the extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. He is a really good cook and makes a giant roast pork and sauerkraut meal that we have been doing since we were little. Then New Year’s Day was my mom’s birthday so we’d cut her the first piece and then she’d put a candle in it for her birthday. It was like a fake little pre-birthday celebration with the whole family. She passed away many years ago but we still light the candle and do the whole thing but instead of a birthday wish it’s a wish for the new year for everyone. It’s sweet I think.”
The informant is from a large German-American family.
The informant described this to me when I inquired about her family’s traditions around the holidays.
Pork and Sauerkraut is a very common New Year’s food, especially for those of German heritage. The combination of a birthday wish and luck for the new year appears to go hand in hand. There are certain theories as to why pork is associated with luck for the new year, “In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in the forward direction” (Sherrow 28). The symbolism of a pig digging forward is meant to represent forward movement for those that eat the pig in the coming year. The luck of pork and a birthday wish create a hopeful start to the year for this family
Sherrow, Victoria. “EAT FOR LUCK!” Child Life, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan, 2007, pp. 28-29. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/docview/216762697?accountid=14749.
The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.
Interviewer: So do you have any New Year’s traditions that you take part in?
Informant:Yes I do! Every year at midnight, everyone has to get up on the couch and jump of right as the clock hits midnight so that we’re jumping into the new year. My mom used to do it in Denmark and I always loved doing it so I saw no reason to stop.
Interviewer: and no one else you know does that?
Informant: Not that I know of…. Some of my American friends like to take a shot at midnight haha but i feel like our way is a little more sentimental.
My informant is a woman in her 50’s, originally growing up in Denmark and moving to the United states in her early 20’s. She has exceedingly liberal views, and has been a mother for a majority of her life.
I talked to my informant over the phone during the 2020 Coronavirus Epidemic.
I love the idea of “Jumping into the New Year” as a sentimental way of not just finishing off a year, but having a good start to a new one. The differences between Danish culture and American culture are also highlighted here, since most special occasions are celebrated with drinking in America, while family, friends, and good virtue take precedent in most European culture. This definitely doesn’t mean that Danish people don’t like to drink, however, because they definitely like to party
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.
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.
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.
AM: If you jump three times at midnight [on New Years] you’ll get taller. That’s what my grandparents tell me when I was little.
Interviewer: Did you do it?
AM: Yeah, but did I get taller. No! I’m 5’2 still. It was just on New Years when it hits 12:00am.
Interviewer: Is this a cultural thing?
AM: Um, I think it is because that is what a lot of like old Filipinos would say when I was little
AM is a childhood friend of mine and we were having a causal chat on Facetime when I asked her if she had any folklore to share with the database. She is a 20 year old student at Cal Poly Pomona. Her family is from the Philippines, but she has lived in Southern California all her life. She comes from a Catholic household and went to a private catholic school for elementary and middle school.
Rituals done on New Year’s Day often represent our desires and hopes for the coming year. Midnight on New Years’s is the most liminal time of year where you might be able to break the natural rules and use that to your advantage and change something about yourself in a way that would not be possible any other time of the year.
Also, three is a sacred number in Christianity, which is likely why it was chosen for the number of spins as many people in the Philippines and members of AM’s family are Catholic. The role of belief also plays a major part in the transmission of the custom. It was the older generation that enforced the practice and believed in it to a greater extent. AM was only following what was told to her by her grandparents. However, she did not continue the practice and will likely not encourage her children to take part in it as she does not believe in it.