From the Lottery Day celebrations, to the traditional Christmas Eve dinner and the after-dinner card games on Christmas Day, there are many special days that we celebrate in this month of December, when the last days of the year are over and we make way for a new one. We still have Epiphany Eve, and we still have the wonderful Three Kings Day. Putting everything together we find this end of the year, and the beginning of another year. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, two of the favourite festivities of the Spanish people.
On New Year’s Eve we experience one of the great moments of the year. Not only because we review what we have experienced and allow ourselves to think a little about what we want to achieve in the coming months. Also because we look around us and see the people who are still by our side. We miss people, of course, but this night is still more optimistic than pessimistic. A year is coming to an end, and we remember the bad things, but above all we remember the good things and we bet on the good wishes. We drink to it, we eat to it, and we eat those twelve grapes to get off to a good start the following year. It is one of the oldest traditions we have, and it is present in other parts of the world.
The twelve lucky grapes seem to have originated at the end of the 19th century, or so the latest studies have indicated. The chronicles of 1880 speak of how the people of Madrid were tired of the privacy of the upper bourgeoisie, who held parties to end the year with champagne and grapes as accompaniment, leaving the middle classes behind. As a protest and also as a meeting between these middle classes, they decided to meet, one New Year’s Eve, in front of the Puerta del Sol, to mock this tradition of the bourgeoisie eating grapes, except that they did it at the sound of the chimes that marked the beginning of the year.
The story of some farmers in Alicante who took advantage of a surplus of grapes in their harvest to distribute among their acquaintances has also been told for some time, which made this custom popular. Be that as it may, it seems that we can trust the latter in one sense: it was something that arose in one community, and which gradually spread to others.
This custom has grown until it has come to us as we know it: as an annual unmissable event. We sit in front of the TV, choose the channel that best suits our spirit and prepare to follow the correct countdown. The hosts of this event themselves have become symbols, and conversations and anecdotes have circulated around them that are also part of our imagination. Such is the congregational power of this moment.
The way we celebrate the end of the year has changed precisely over the years. New Year’s Eve is now understood as a much more social date than a family one. At least, certainly less familiar than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. When we have eaten those twelve good-luck grapes, once we have wished each other the best among the relatives, millions of people hit the streets. They do so seeking to celebrate and congratulate the New Year to all those they meet. New Year’s Eve is, in the end, a great celebration night.
This does not mean that the families have stopped meeting. It is less solemn than it once was, and more and more people are encouraged to make different plans to welcome the new year. A trip to another country, a country house with a few friends, a getaway to another city. We are reinventing the way we celebrate New Year’s Eve, which in general terms means what has already been said: a great night out.
Of course, there are plenty of traditions. We are a country of customs. That is why we try to wear red underwear, a colour associated with good luck, a superstition that seems to come from the Middle Ages. We also like to toast with some gold in our glass, in order to attract fortune. And the most important thing: we cannot forget to kiss and hug all the people around us when that new year has started.
The traditional New Year’s meal is very similar to Christmas lunch. Good meat, nice fish, starters to enjoy and a traditional dessert, which will always depend on the region we are in. There is no lack of toasts and Christmas sweets that we have been keeping in our homes for weeks. There is also no lack, even if the night before has gone by, of post-lunch board games, replacements for the New Year’s Eve specials which we didn’t pay much attention to on New Year’s Eve and a good siesta. To start the year with another of the most consolidated and established Spanish traditions, those that do not change over the decades. Because we are a country of customs.
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