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 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 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 NYE 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, according to History. 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 12 lucky grapes may have a marketing connection

The 12 lucky grapes tradition in Spain is a little more complex than it might first appear, according to NPR. The grapes that are eaten at midnight must be green, and they're actually of a particular 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 grapes with a 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.

Matador Network explains that it was once believed the 12 lucky grapes tradition was initiated by an unusually abundant grape crop in Alicante in 1909 as a way to increase grape consumption. That story didn't hold up when evidence was found of the 12 grapes tradition that dated to the late 1800s. Alicante grape growers do benefit from the tradition, however, given that about 4.4 million pounds of grapes are eaten across Spain on NYE. Some of the grapes are fresh, while others are purchased in small cans or jars that contain 12 lucky grapes, already peeled and seeded. NPR adds that it's also customary to wear red underwear, preferably a garment given to you by someone else, while you celebrate.