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CHRISTMAS

Why the Spanish see in the New Year by gobbling up 12 grapes

As midnight approaches on New Year's Eve everyone across Spain will be clutching a very important talisman: 12 grapes to bring luck and fortune throughout the coming year.

Why the Spanish see in the New Year by gobbling up 12 grapes
Photo: Chris Oakley / Flickr

It’s essential for each grape to be popped in the mouth on the dong of each stroke of midnight, no mean feat when you are surrounded by giggling friends in a crowd of people (or at home this year given the amount of Covid restrictions there are).

To make things easier, supermarkets sell cans containing 12 small, seedless grapes, perfect for popping in your pocket and keeping them to hand wherever you decide to celebrate.


“Lucky grapes” sold at a green grocers in Madrid. Photo: Fiona Govan/The Local

But what are the origins of the tradition?

Ask your Spanish friends and see if they will be able to tell you – it will probably be something to do with how it all started with a ploy by winemakers to try and sell off a large surplus of grapes after a particularly fruitful harvest.

That’s probably true but it’s origins are meant to be more proletariat in nature.

The particular tradition of popping a grape in the mouth to the dong of the bells in front of the clock of Madrid’s Puerta del Sol has its origins in a working class rebellion against a tax imposed in 1882 by José Abascal y Carredano, the mayor of Madrid.

He reportedly imposed a tax of five pesetas (Spain’s old currency) on those holding parties on the eve of Epiphany – when the Three Kings roll into town on the night of January 5th – which meant only the wealthy madrileños could afford to celebrate late into the night after the free parade in the afternoon.

So Madrid’s working-class residents decided to stage their own celebration in front of the then mayor’s office in La Puerta del Sol and scoff a grape on each gong of the bell to make a mockery of bourgeoise dining habits, who thought it refined to have grapes with their champagne.

But beware, the tradition comes with a health risk

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) associations have for years warned that the Spanish tradition of wolfing down a grape for every one of the twelve chimes that rings in the New Year is not without its risks. 

They’ve told the public to buy seedless, skinless grapes and are even pushing for the time between dongs to be extended from three to five seconds to allow revellers to catch their breath more easily and swallow properly. 

People over the age of 65 are also considered to be a high-risk group for suffocation during this tradition and so to are young children, especially those under five.


In normal years, crowds pack into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol for midnight. Photo: AFP

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LIFE IN SPAIN

EXPLAINED: What should I do if I lose my wallet in Spain?

It can happen to the best of us, but what should you do if you lose or have your wallet/purse stolen in Spain?

EXPLAINED: What should I do if I lose my wallet in Spain?

Whether you’re visiting Spain or live here, losing your wallet or purse can create a huge amount of stress, not to mention the potentially laborious bureaucratic processes you have to go through in order to sort everything out.

Anyone can drop or misplace their wallet, and although Spain is a safe country, like any big city in the world pickpockets do operate. This is particularly true in the more touristy areas of Barcelona.

READ MORE: How Barcelona is once again Spain’s pickpocket capital

Hopefully it never happens to you, but what should you do if you lose your wallet in Spain? 

  1. Search – This one almost goes without saying, but be sure to retrace your steps, search thoroughly at home, and in bags, pairs of trousers etc before reporting the loss of theft. If you start the denuncia process (more on that later) and then find your wallet or purse, you’ll have wasted a lot of time and energy navigating the quirks of the Spanish bureaucratic system. Many cities in Spain have a lost and found office (oficina de objetos perdidos) which you should also consider visiting before getting in touch with police authorities. There are plenty of honest people in Spain, so fingers crossed the person who finds it will hand it in.
  2. Cancel your bank cards – If you’re certain you haven’t just misplaced it, consider cancelling your bank cards. Although many people now use their phones to pay, if you’ve lost your wallet or had it stolen it makes sense to cancel any debit or credit cards you had in there. Be sure to call your bank as soon as you’re sure you haven’t misplaced them.
  3. File a ‘denuncia’ – If you suspect your wallet was stolen, you should go to the nearest police station as soon as possible and file a report (denuncia in Spanish). It is also possible to do it by phone (the Spanish emergency number is 112) or online, but you will have to go to the police station to sign the denuncia at some point eventually, so it’s better to do it all in one go, and to do it as promptly as possible.

    It’s worth noting that very few Spanish police officers speak English, so, if possible, try to go with a Spanish speaker who can help you. Some police stations in larger cities may have a translator on site, but don’t count on it.

  4. Replace your ID cards – If you keep all your bank and ID cards together in your wallet, then losing it will mean that not only are you left without any money, but no identification to prove who you are.
    1. Passports – If you’re visiting Spain on holiday and lose your passport (or ID card, if you’re from an EU country) you should contact your embassy and arrange a short-term emergency passport in order to travel home.
    2. Driving license – if your driving license was in the wallet, you’ll need to go down to your local Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico and request a replacement. It is not usually necessary to make an appointment, but you will need to bring some kind of ID with you. Obviously this could be much more difficult if all your ID cards were lost or stolen in the wallet. If this is the case, bring any official documentation with your name, date of birth and crucially, photo, to help your case.

      You’ll also need to bring two passport photos and pay a fee of €20.

      All being well, you’ll be given a temporary license to allow you to drive until the replacement arrives.

    3. TIE/NIE – If you live in Spain, it’s likely you kept your TIE or old residency card (the small card-sized green document) in your wallet and have also lost that. As a foreigner living abroad, getting a replacement is important.

      To get a replacement, you’ll need to make an appointment (cita previa) at the extranjería. You can do this online by choosing the ‘card duplicate after theft or loss’ option on the dropdown menu. Some of the documents you’ll need are:

      – Form EX-17, (download here)
      – Proof of payment of the fee (790/012)
      – Original and copy of your passport.
      – Three passport photos.
      – Your denuncia.

FIND OUT MORE: What to do if you lose your TIE or other Spanish residency document

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