Toast Your Grapes: New Year’s Eve Madrid Style

Lauren Linzer parties with her friends.

By Lauren Linzer

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, many of us will be kissing our sweetie, clinking champagne glasses, and wishing our loved ones a happy year to come. Spaniards will surely be doing the same, but not before devouring a cup full of grapes (twelve to be specific) and trying not to laugh as they attempt to eat one per chime of the clock and cheer, “Feliz año Nuevo!” (Happy New Year!).

Grapes ready to be devoured

This famous custom began in the early 1900s, as a freakishly large winter harvest yielded an abundance of the fruit and growers were faced with the crop rotting, resulting in massive losses. They cleverly concocted a plan to begin this lucky New Year’s tradition, conveniently corresponding with the nearing the end of year. Miraculously, the ritual stuck. Now Spaniards all across the country are well prepared with their twelve grapes at midnight.

Puerta de Sol for New Year’s Eve

If you are lucky enough to be in Madrid for the big celebration, it’s tempting to post up in the Puerta de Sol (Madrid’s geographic center) to witness the famous annual celebration live at the clock tower; it is broadcasted every year to Spaniards countrywide. Much like the Times Square celebration in New York City, people of all ages pack into the center, shoulder to shoulder, eagerly awaiting the midnight toast.

Interestingly enough, many of the attendees are not Spanish, but out-of-towners eager to be part of the Sol experience, with their bottles of cava (Spanish champagne) and cups of grapes in hand. The natives are more likely to be home with their loved ones to gobble grapes and share good tidings before hitting the streets for a night of celebration. After all, on the typical night out in Spain, many party goers don’t kick off the revelry until the a.m. hours.

It may seem odd to visitors, but it is perfectly normal for a bar to not open its doors until after 1:00 a.m. as the staff is home with their own families for the transition into the New Year. Those who opt for an adventure hit the town and join the masses of fellow night owls in the streets of Madrid. With approximately 350,000 bars (that’s right, four zeros) there is never a dull moment or lack of New Year’s festivities.

Lauren and friends.

Party promoters line the streets of Huertes, Chueca, and many other popular late night sections of town to offer a free drink and a convincing spiel that their spot is the best. Whether it is dancing the night away to Spanish tunes, guzzling pints in an Irish pub, or munching on tapas over great conversation, there truly is something for everyone on this celebratory night. And as the sun rises over the city, herds of people line up for a hot churro (popular breakfast pastry) with chocolate before stumbling onto the first morning metro, finally resting their eyes.

Across the world, December 31st is a prime day for letting loose and celebrating, and Madrid is certainly no exception. What better place to enjoy it than in a city that takes great pride in its traditions, appreciates moving into the New Year with the people they love, and emphasizes the importance of fiesta (party).

Lauren Linzer, from Raleigh, North Carolina, gave up the day to day grind of corporate sales to embrace life in Spain as an English teacher and travel writer in Madrid. Read more about her experiences at:

8 Responses

  1. A very fine example of in depth reporting on the biggest issues Spain is facing today. But tell us why, pray tell, were the Spaniards eating 15 grapes at 11 pm this year?

  2. nancy todd says:

    Spain clings mightily to it’s traditions and eating grapes is one. Sorry, don’t know the source of grapes in your gullet. What are the traditions in your country?

    Here is a link to our reaction to the presidential elections in Spain.

    Thanks for writing!

  3. admin says:

    Hi Richard, What do you mean by 15 grapes and 11pm? 12 grapes, at 12?… Not sure I can answer your question because I’m not sure what you’re asking!


  4. Ah sorry, let me explain. There was a very big campaign at the New Year celebration in Madrid this year to eat 15 grapes at 11pm, instead of the usual 12 at 12, in order to protest the grip that the richest 1% have on the country. Of course, the protest was mostly ignored by the Spanish media, who were too busy distracting the public from the soaring unemployment that has reached a staggering 21+%, and approaches 50% for young people in Spain. The Indignados stole the Grape Eating Show this year, but you wouldn’t know it from the papers or the TV!

  5. Lauren says:

    Richard, I just read about this movement of the 15 grapes being eaten on New Years Eve to support the idignant movement began on May 15th in response to the crisis. Sorry that I failed to make mention of this in my article but it is an interesting and valid point. This article was intended to be light hearted and informative insite into NYE celebrations in Madrid on a more general basis, but it is important to note that this has been a challenging year for Spaniards. The Puerta del Sol was a center for addressing grave concerns and protesting, in addition to celebretory gathering, so thank you for bring this point forward.

  6. No problem Lauren! Sorry for being so snide, but the Indignados have been ignored so much by the Spanish press, that I just expected it here too. I must say that I am pleasantly surprised that this site is willing to address the most pressing issue in Spain today. Keep up the good work!

  7. Mo says:

    I´d heard of this explanation Lauren though you´ve explained it very well. I do wonder a little, however, about these “cups” of grapes since I´ve never seen them. What I like are the little tins and jars of peeled, seeded grapes in syrup to make the whole swallowing feat much easier…. something my mother-in-law seemed to forget one year, laying out huge red grapes as big as plums! Positively dangerous!

  8. nancy todd says:

    Hey Mo, Glad you survived the big red grapes. I have seen them in the markets….about the size of ping pong balls. Maybe if you down those babies, you have extra good luck for the new year. Or a stomach ache.

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