How Eating Grapes On NYE Became A Tradition

People all over the world celebrate ushering out the old year and welcoming the new one, though New Year's traditions certainly vary from place to place. If you're in Greece, you might smash a pomegranate, while in Denmark, you might celebrate with a towering kransekake, a stack of marzipan ring-shaped cakes that symbolize a year that's come full circle. You might also prepare a pork dish to bring in good luck with the new year, or you could simply raise a glass of Champagne.

In fact, many New Year's Eve traditions center around luck, specifically starting out a new year in a propitious fashion, looking ahead to prosperity or good health. The Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight on NYE is one such tradition. Celebrants rush to gobble down 12 grapes, one for each strike of the clock as it tolls to signify the end of the year. The tradition in Spain even has a name: "las doce uvas de la suerta," which means "the 12 lucky grapes." But how did this tradition originate?

The history of the 12 lucky grapes tradition

The Spanish 12 lucky grapes tradition is a little more complex than it might first appear. The grapes that are eaten at midnight must be green, and they're actually of a particular Spanish variety called Aledo. Aledo grapes, which are protected by a D.O. (designation of origin) like the one that governs winemaking, are a late-maturing variety grown predominantly in the region of Alicante. 

Well before harvest, the immature grapes are covered in paper bags while still on the vine, which slows maturation and results in sweeter grapes with thin, delicate skin — a prized characteristic for grapes that have to be eaten quickly, one in between each chime of the 12 bells of midnight to represent the 12 months of the coming year. Failure to finish the grapes in time signifies a new year full of misfortune. It was once believed that the 12 lucky grapes tradition was initiated by an unusually abundant grape crop in Alicante in 1909 as a way to increase grape consumption. 

But that story didn't hold up when evidence was found dating the 12 grapes tradition to the late 1800s. The Spanish bourgeoisie would combine their Champagne with grapes, mimicking the French tradition which saw the same combo. Eventually, it's believed that the other classes in Spain took to eating grapes as a way to make fun of the bourgeoisie and claim the tradition for all Spaniards. It's also customary to wear red underwear, preferably a garment given to you by someone else, while you celebrate.