Thursday, December 30, 2004


The New Year holiday in Spain is an important one—especially for the teenage and twenty-something crowd. For this group, the holiday is divided into three distinct phases: (a) dinner and grapes with family; (b) beer, wine and whisky with friends; and (c) New Years Day with Satan.

Phase 1 kicks-off the holiday on a wholesome note. Family gathers in the home for a large, New Year’s Eve dinner. After dinner, the family awaits midnight; at which time a special ceremony occurs.

Each person holds a bowl of twelve grapes and, at the first stroke of midnight, begins quickly eating them one at a time. If you succeed in eating all twelve grapes by the twelfth stroke of midnight, then you will have good luck throughout the coming year. Failure to eat the grapes in a timely manner brings bad luck. If you manage to pop all twelve into your mouth but one enters a lung, then yes—you (technically) should have good luck. But all things considered, it might be wise to avoid scheduling any skydiving excursions for the next twelve months.

After the grapes are eaten and all parties have either been kissed or administered the Heimlich Maneuver, the family opens and drinks a bottle of cava; thus ending Phase 1.

Upon commencement of Phase 2, the more youthful members of the family—and/or those who do not have small children—don their finest suits and evening gowns, wave bye-bye to the parents, and proceed to one or more parties at friends’ homes or night clubs.

Now…maybe it’s the fault of my American informality, but I’ve never understood why—given the hours of debauchery that are known to lie ahead—Spanish New Year’s Eve revelers insist on dressing to the nines. Surely it doesn’t bode well for your 100€ Hermés tie or 500€ Channel gown to be squeezed into a room where dozens (or hundreds!) of colleagues are dancing with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of red wine (most likely, their ninth of the evening) in the other. But I digress.

As the sun begins to rise, those revelers who are not lying prone in a puddle of drool leave the party in search of a bar or restaurant for a breakfast of hot chocolate and churros. This, of course, presents one last opportunity to irreparably stain any Hermés ties or Channel evening gowns that miraculously survived the previous seven hours in tact. The partiers then stagger home and into bed.

Phase 3 begins at 3pm on New Year’s Day or when the party-goer’s mother wakes him up; whichever occurs first. The rise-‘n-shine reflex of a Spanish mother is always a threat, because Spanish youths—unlike their US counterparts—typically live with their parents until marriage or age 43; whichever occurs first.

The bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived New Year’s Eve reveler then hauls himself from bed and spends the remainder of New Year’s Day savoring a crushing hangover; in all of its temple-throbbing, stomach-churning, tongue-coated glory. At 11pm, the by-now-long-suffering youth returns to bed, only to discover that he is unable to sleep because—let me remind—he didn’t rise until 3pm that same afternoon. If he’s really, really unlucky, the next morning will be a work day.

That pretty well summarizes the New Year holiday experience for the average young Spaniard. And me? Do I conform to this behavioral template? Not exactly. Here’s how I typically spend my New Year holiday in Spain.

I scrupulously adhere to Phase 1, after which I hit the sack. I rise—feeling chipper and well-rested—early on New Year’s Day morning, and promptly don a jogging suit. I then go to the streets of Madrid and chuckle at the disheveled, staggering, suit-wearing hordes trying to remember which building (if any) is that of their parents. When they get closer, I commence a vigorous session of deep-knee bends and jumping jacks on the sidewalk; displaying to all the joys of youth, health and vivacity.

Then, if the audience seems less than appreciative, I run. I usually don’t need to run very fast.
Posted by Hello


At 6:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sal:
Here in the pueblo, we attempt to make it to the square by the church/clock tower by midnight where, if the mayor has remembered to order them, small packets of grapes are passed around together with plastic cups of bubbly. On the appropriate 'clank' from the clock - not the first one, it's an elderly piece that has to warm up, sort of like clearing its throat - we all down the champers and grapes as fast as possible. Those of us who like fruit, that is. Then somebody blows an old cornet and the children let off their petardos as we all attempt to kiss the hacienda councillor's daughter.
On the occasion of the leap from 1999 into the present millenium, the clockwork in the city timepiece gave out, just a couple of minutes shy of midnight with the result that our fair town, steeped as it is in tradition, became the only place in the world that remained - unwillingly, perhaps - in the twentieth century.
Tomorrow night, we'll probably bring a radio along...
Feliz año - Lenox

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Hola Lenox (proprietor of and

Thanks for shedding light on New Year's etiquette in the great province of Almería, Spain.

But I think we need to clarify one point for the benefit of any non-Spanish-speaking readers. When you say that "the children let off their petardos," you are referring to firecrackers...not the foul-smelling gaseous by-product of eating too many garbanzos.

Now that we've addressed that important issue, let's talk about the hacienda councillor's daughter...



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