THE end of the year is here and people all over Spain are gearing up to try to swallow their traditional grapes without choking in an aim to guarantee good luck for the year ahead.
While families and groups in smaller or more rural areas may stay at home to celebrate and watch the countdown to midnight on the TV, most of the population will be making their way to the town or city square this evening armed with bottles of champagne or cider and bunches of grapes, adorned with party hats and streamers.
At the most popular venue for celebrations, the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, rehearsals last night went smoothly with many who wished to avoid tonight’s massive crowds in attendance.
This year, however, due to security alerts in place in almost all large European cities, thousands of civil protection volunteers and police officers will be on duty carrying out checks as people approach the square and the gates will be closed once 25,000 people have been allowed to enter. There will be just four streets open to allow people to enter the square, with security checks on each and bans on entering with sharp or heavy objects which could be used as weapons, which leaves one wondering what sort of tricks partiers will come up with to get their champagne in! The other six streets leading to and from Puerta del Sol have been marked as exit routes to allow evacuation of the square if necessary.
For those not accustomed to the Spanish grape tradition who may have been scratching their heads at the sight in shops of dozens of grapes in various containers from champagne glasses to bags, the idea is that those able to pop a grape into their mouths at each chime of the bells at midnight and manage to eat them all without choking within the given time will have a year of good luck. Nowadays TV channels help those who are not quite sure out by displaying banners at the bottom of the screen with pacman like figures showing viewers exactly when the next grape should be put into the mouth.
Yet it isn’t as easy as it sounds or the locals tend to make it look! Preparatory chimes before the 12 real bells ring have be known to catch out many, TV presenters included, while some (the writer included) have found that choking on grapes is a pretty unlucky way to start the year! A good trick is to either look for specially prepared ones for youngsters (peel and pips conveniently removed) or swap them for raisins! Although some also like to swap their grapes for ‘chupitos’ (shots of alcoholic drinks) this, followed by champagne and other drinks at parties afterwards, can also lead to a very unlucky feeling on New Year’s Day!
Once the grapes are swallowed, spat out or whatever, there must of course be kisses and hugs all round, champagne and well wishes followed by celebrations for as long as people can stay away.
The next stop after the party is the chocolate and churros bar for something nice and stodgy to soak up some alcohol before heading home to sleep the party off.
New Year’s Day is generally a quiet affair with most choosing to stay at home and quietly sleep off the excesses of the night before or head out for a meal with the family.
Of course, one must remember that the Spanish and those of us lucky enough to live here still have a major part of the Christmas celebrations to come…..Three Kings on Wednesday (January 6)!
Nothing remains but to wish our readers a very Happy New Year from everyone at EWN. No matter how you choose to spend it, the team sincerely hopes you have a wonderful night and an even better 2016 and pledges to continue striving to keep you informed on matters local and from further afield every day of the year ahead.