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!).
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.
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.
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: http://linzersadventure.blogspot.com/