The true story of the 12 New Year’s Eve grapes (a fruit whose season passed months ago)

The true story of the 12 New Year’s Eve grapes (a fruit whose season passed months ago)

As most historians or folklorists know, when we speak of a “lifelong” tradition, it most likely goes back no more than two or three generations. Nothing is forever: neither the customs.

Today a New Year’s Eve in Spain is unthinkable without the 12 lucky grapes, a practice that causes many choking on the last night of the year, but which no one is willing to do without. It has it all: a crumb of esotericism and a lot of theater. But the tradition goes back, at best, at the beginning of the 20th century.

The story about the origin of lucky grapes usually remains that it was an invention of grape growers to get rid of surplus production, but the reality is somewhat more complex. Y there is no single version of the story.

A tradition of wealthy origin

Today just before New Year’s Eve we find very shiny grapes in all the greengrocers, because the producers strive to deliver the fruit at this time, but a century ago at this time of year there were hardly any grapes on the market. The grape season runs from mid-September to mid-November. Only the grapes grown in Murcia and Alicante held up well until December, and not always, given their milder climate.

In 1989 there is a documented advertisement promoting the lucky grapes

The most widespread story tells that it was in 1909 when the Alicante and Murcian farmers, eager to place a surplus in the production of grapes due to a good harvest, they promoted the consumption of grapes on New Year’s Eve, arriving to distribute bunches at the Puerta del Sol (where the mob was already celebrating the arrival of the New Year).

However, there are testimonies prior to this date that suggest that some Madrilenians already drank grapes on New Year’s Eve. Specifically, an advertisement published in a newspaper The Impartial on December 29, 1898 in which the producers promote “The Grapes of Luck”.

And the custom, it seems, has a wealthy origin. Already at the end of the 20th century, wealthy families, influenced by the French bourgeoisie, they celebrated New Years Eve with champagne and grapes. In that same 1898 newspaper, in a note from the Society section, mention is made of the lunch with the lucky grapes at the New Year’s Eve party at the Hotel de los Condes de Romanones. The snobbish use of English words also has a long tradition.

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The winter grape

It is probable, in any case, that until well into the twentieth century, drinking grapes on New Year’s Eve was a very limited practice, reserved only for wealthy classes and, depending on the year there were grapes.

The real responsible for the custom of take grapes on New Years Eve spread throughout Spain, and in all social strata, was the bagged grape from the Vinalopó valley, in Alicante.

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These grapes, which today have a Denomination of Origin, were an invention of the farmer Manuel Bonsuoti who, at the beginning of the 20th century, decided to protect his table grape bunches from insects by covering them with a paper bag. This, in addition to protecting the vines from pests, allows for later ripening: the Vinalopó grape can be found until mid-January.

Although today we find on the market many other types of grapesThanks to improved preservation techniques, bagged grapes are the only fresh grape that is still harvested in the Northern Hemisphere at this time. According to data from the DO’s regulatory council, the expected production for this year exceeds 41 million kilos and, of these, two million will be consumed on New Year’s Eve.

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