New Year’s Grapes

Posted on December 29, 2011


Forget the masquerade parties and kiss at midnight, El Salvador’s New Year’s traditions are all about family dinners, fireworks at midnight, and partying til dawn (we have that much in common, I guess).

But one Salvadoran New Year’s tradition that I just learned about and LOVE is The Eating of the Grapes at midnight. Apparently the custom comes from Spain, and it is thus common throughout much of Latin America to consume big, red, luscious grapes this time of year (not sure where they’re imported from, but they sure are yum!).

I’ve heard a few takes on the idea: one saying goes (more like a mandate, really) that you must eat one grape per chime as the clock strikes Midnight, and finish eating all 12 by the last chime (thus entering the New Year not dreamily with a kiss but comically with a mouthful of grapes). Another version (the superstitious one) claims that the taste/size/quality/etc. of each grape predicts what fortune will befall you in the corresponding month of the year. I.E., if your ninth grape is bruised you’ll have a tough September, or a perfectly juicy fifth grape foretells good luck in May.

My favorite custom though, and I believe the most common in El Salvador,  is the following:  Starting at midnight, you eat 12 grapes,  representing the 12 months of the year.  As you savor each grape, you make a wish for something to come true in its respective month.  In other words, it’s kind of like wishing upon a star.  Except 12 times in a row.  And much more intentionally.  On second thought, it’s maybe not like shooting stars at all, those thrilling blurs in the sky that surprise you and force you to come up with a spur-of-the-moment wish.  The grapes, on the other hand, you know they’re coming, and they represent real months you also know are coming.  So rather than being a frivolous, far-off wish, they in fact help reflect on one’s desires and achievable dreams.

What a great way to start off the New Year.  I love the grapes tradition compared to setting resolutions, which you’re supposed to achieve simultaneously but which are pretty much doomed to failure (“It’s January 1st!  From here on out I will practice yoga X times per week and be very kind and patient and accomplish X big thing at work and read X books per month and travel to X countries and gain X muscle tone and save X dollars yada yada” … It’s exhausting to even think about tackling that all at once!)  They say new habits should be incorporated one at a time and slowly.  And resolutions are mostly associated with creating new habits (or changing old ones).  Who likes habits anyways?  They’re dull and nunny.

Grapes have to do with much more than daily habits.  Instead (as I interpret it) they represent something far more inspiring and important: manifesting intentions and achieving big, specific goals.  It’s about life feats, introduced and implemented one at a time.  One significant goal per month is a manageable accomplishment.  I have a friend who said on her 27th birthday, “This year I want to fall in love” — and she did.  It’s like that.

For me, 2011 was a year full of big, good changes, like moving internationally, opening a restaurant, and starting a great job.  I’d like to continue that trend in 2012 and have already started reflecting on what my grapes will be for this coming year.

In short, this year let’s leave all grapes of wrath — hurts, resentments, hardships — behind us.  Instead let’s look forward by setting positive goals.  In January, I will_____.  In February, I’d like to see_____happen.  In March, I will go_____.   ….  Eat em up, friends.