Nobody knows the exact origin of the traditional ’12 lucky grapes’, but here are the two most popular theories
Everybody who has ever celebrated New Year’s Eve in Spain must surely be aware of the tradition of eating twelve lucky grapes at midnight. There is no specific explanation about the origin of this tradition, but, there are two versions that try to explain it.
The most popular theory dates back to the end of the 19th century. It says that a group of grape producers from the Vinalopo Valley, in the province of Alicante, decided to create a promotion to start the great harvest. They were called “the grapes of luck”, and had to be eaten to the rhythm of the chimes that marked the end of the year.
However, the Vinalopo Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) has documented another version. “We know that in the last years of the 19th century it was a very widespread custom in Madrid for wealthy families, influenced by the French customs of the time, to have a New Year’s Eve ‘lunch’ in which grapes and champagne were served”.
They continue, “The first known document that records the fact is an advertisement published in El Imparcial on December 29, 1898 in which the producers promote ‘The grapes of luck'”.
Adding, “In order for this custom to spread to all social strata, the Municipal Bando of Mayor Jose Abascal was needed. To achieve this, certain practices related to the Christmas traditions of the Villa de Madrid were prohibited”.
Concluding, “Annoyed by said side, the citizens of the Villa decided to ridicule the custom of the upper class, and congregated in the current Puerta del Sol, on December 31, 1896, to take the twelve grapes, and loudly celebrate the entry of the new year”.
In the El Imparcial edition of January 1, 1902, you can also read another society note that mentions the ‘lunch with the usual lucky grapes’ at the New Year’s Eve party at the Hotel de Los Condes de Romanones.
Whichever version might be true, the tradition has long since been established. In fact, the only fresh grape that can be consumed in the entire northern hemisphere during these dates, is grown in the aforementioned Vinalopo Valley.
This year’s forecast exceeds 41 million kilos, and of these, two million will be consumed on New Year’s Eve. The harvest this year has been good because the weather has been favourable.
The Vinalopo Valley and its grape harvest
The Vinalopó Valley enjoys a unique microclimate, which, for more than a century, the farmers of this region have taken advantage of, to consolidate an artisanal technique that is unique in the world – bagging.
As the PDO explains, “It consists of putting a paper bag around each bunch of grapes at the beginning of June or July, which is tied with a raffia thread. In this way, we are delaying the maturation, and the flavour is also enhanced”.
This is the variety that is consumed on New Year’s Eve in the so-called Aledo. “This technique gives the fruit its unique characteristics that make it worthy of the highest existing recognition in the European Union for a food product: the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)”.
“Therefore, this grape is small and has seeds, unlike those that can now be found in supermarkets that do not carry seeds, are much larger, and that come from the other hemisphere. It is clear that the tradition comes from the cultivation of small grains. The others you cannot eat so fast”, point out the PDO.
The bagged grape from Vinalopo is associated with the creation of 13,000 jobs, and it contributes to the economic development of the seven municipalities that comprise it.
The seven varieties covered by the PDO cover the entire table grape season in the northern hemisphere, from the end of August with the earliest varieties, until mid-January, with the latest variety, as reported by larazon.es.