New Year’s eve is celebrated worldwide at midnight on January 31st. It’s a time to close off the past year and welcome the new year with cheer and prosperity. Each country celebrates it in their traditional way, centered in the capital city. In the United States however, many cities celebrate by the lowering or raising of an object, mainly a ball, such as in New York’s Times Square. But in Spain, there is no big shiny ball dropping but rather the chimes of the clock tower in the Puerta del Sol, where all is quiet during the countdown (12 seconds!) and people popping 12 grapes in their mouth (one for each second), symbolizing luck for each of the twelve months of the year that is about to begin.
Where Did The Tradition of Eating 12 Grapes Come From?
The origin of the custom of drinking champagne and eating grapes on the last day of the year was in Madrid in 1896. It was something of an elitist practice that served the wealthy upper classes, in imitation of the French bourgeoisie. In the early twentieth century, in 1902, it is known that the tradition had spread to other areas of Spain. It was in 1909 when, a large oversupply of grapes where produced, vineyards began a campaign to promote the widespread tradition… and so you see, that’s how it all began!
The tradition of eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve in Spain is mainly following the 12 chimes of the clock in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. It is a very important moment and everything should work perfectly. To insure that nothing goes wrong, everything is tested before. In fact, there are two tests, on the 30th at noon & at midnight. Until recently, these technical tests were not practiced, only among the watchmakers in charge of the clock. However, some years ago, many people began gathering in these trials in the Puerta del Sol to eat a substitute for grapes (gumdrops, popcorn, chips…), since only real grapes can be eaten the 31st at midnight (to do otherwise, it is said, brings bad luck). Now it’s becoming widely know and thus will be a continuing tradition.
The clock in the Puerta del Sol was built in London in the late nineteenth century by the Spanish watchmaker José Rodríguez de Losada, who donated it to the city of Madrid. The building in which the clock is located was once the old post house, built by a French architect the late 18th century. The building once headquartered of the Ministry of Interior and State Security during the Franco dictatorship. It is currently the seat of the Presidency of the Madrid Community.