"We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now…"

by Katie Pizzuto on January 5, 2009

in holiday traditions

grapesCubans get many of their cultural traditions from either those lovely conquering Spaniards across the pond, or the Africans brought over on their slave ships. And we can actually thank Spanish grape growers for one in particular that we practice every New Year’s Eve. When grape growers in Alicante had a huge production surplus in 1909, they schemed up a way to cut down on it by selling them in town and asking folks to eat 12 of them on the Eve, one on each chime of the clock that sits atop the Casa de Correos building in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid. Mind you, none of them seemed to give a shit that it’s more than a little difficult to eat 12 grapes, gracefully spit out their seeds, hug and kiss loved ones, and drink cava (or cidra) all at once, and all by the 12th chime.

On New Year’s Eve, while most of us are all celebrating the end of the year and the coming of the new year, there is one person in each Cuban household in charge of grapes, otherwise known as The Grape Keeper. While everyone else is dancing, drinking and eating (sometimes all at once) one person will be in the kitchen laboriously counting grapes. You’ll walk into the kitchen for a few ice cubes to freshen up that Chivas on the rocks, and find the counter covered with little plastic cups, each with 12 grapes. The Grape Keeper’s job is not taken lightly by Cubans. It could be the difference between making or fucking up everyone’s upcoming year if you miscount.

A few minutes before midnight, the Grape Keeper will hand each person at the party their own little cup with the twelve grapes. You may be famished, though I’ve never seen a hungry person at a Cuban party, and the grapes may look deliciously juicy in your hand, but you can’t eat them. You have to wait until midnight, lest you get smacked in the back of your head by your 93-year-old grandmother (the one with the glass of Chivas).

At the stroke of midnight, while everyone else in the world is screaming, toasting, singing Auld Lang Syne, and hugging and kissing, we Cubans are eating the friggin’ grapes, one after the other, usually through a veil of tears, be they of happiness or remembrance. Some say each grape represents luck for each month, some say it’s so you always have food to eat in each of the coming twelve months. But we’re not stupid enough to rest our hopes of prosperity on ONE silly tradition. Nah. Just in case, we’re also wearing red underwear, walking around the block with our suitcase, and throwing a pail of water out the front door. Still not sure who to blame for those, but I’m pretty sure it involves Castro—it always does.

Happy New Year and sorry for being away so long!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron Washam, HMW January 5, 2009

Oddly, I’ve always eaten 12 pairs of red underwear at midnight on New Year’s Eve. And not the edible kind. Bad news? A little tough on the tummy. Good news? My teeth get flossed and the underwear absorbs a lot of Champagne. The tradition started when my wife found 12 pairs of red lacy underwear in the back of my closet one New Year’s Eve…

Welcome back, Katie. You were sorely missed. But I, for one, enjoy a delicious grape stuffed blogger.

Ron

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2 Katie Pizzuto January 5, 2009

Sad to be gone, but nice to be missed, Ron! You know, I heard they call those tight Speedo bathing suits men wear “grape smugglers”…can’t imagine going near a single one of those babies on New Year’s Eve!

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3 Ron Washam, HMW January 5, 2009

Some guys are smuggling Concords, I’m smuggling botrytis-infected Semillon. I’m a moldy but a goody.

I personally missed you something awful.

Ron

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4 Ron Washam, HMW January 5, 2009

Some guys are smuggling Concords, I’m smuggling botrytis-infected Semillon. I’m a moldy but a goody.

I personally missed you something awful. Your passion and gift for language brings Light to the world.

Ron

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5 Ron Washam, HMW January 5, 2009

Sorry for my terrible stammer. Must the the red underwear I ate.

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6 Ron Washam, HMW January 5, 2009

And I can’t type either.

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7 smokenmirrors January 6, 2009

Hope each one of your grapes was sweet and lucky!
Feliz Ano Nuevo, Ms Wench

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8 Katie Pizzuto January 7, 2009

Thanks Mike! Let’s hope 2009 is a wine-soaked year!! Feliz Ano Nuevo!!

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9 Coupe 60 January 7, 2009

1. Be thankful Alicante is not famous for their Cantaloupes or Honeydews

2. Haven’t you ever heard of Seedless Grapes…Banging down a dozen of them is childs play…

3. Seriously, I love traditions, and that one seems pretty neat.

4. Welcome Back, I missed you..

5. Now get your ass over to the WLTV forums…

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10 Katie Pizzuto January 7, 2009

Coupe, NOW we use seedless grapes, but back then, since they were wine-making grapes, you know damned well they all had seeds! In addition, I was in Miami celebrating this year, where grapes aren’t exactly ubiquitous…what few there were in the stores were ALL seeded! Man, it’s nice to feel missed! I should go away more often 😉

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