It was about six minutes to midnight, and fifteen of us stood around the dinner table. Every single person picked up his or her phone (because there was no clock in the dining room!) and waited for the countdown. Outside was quiet in this Mexican neighborhood, with only an occasional pop from fireworks far away.
As the time drew closer, everyone picked up a cup filled with 12 grapes…tres, dos, uno! Feliz año nuevo! Happy New Year!
Apparently the eating of 12 grapes at midnight is a Spanish custom which only originated in 1909 when there was a glut of grapes and growers were anxious to unload them.
“The tradition consists of eating a grape with each bell strike at midnight of December 31. According to the tradition, that leads to a year of prosperity. In some areas, it is believed that the tradition wards away witches and general evil, although this “magic” is treated like an old heritage, and in modern days it’s viewed as a cultural tradition to welcome the new year.” (Wikipedia)
I had read up on this custom ahead of time and was a little fearful of choking if I had to eat one grape per second! Thankfully, my daughter-in-law’s family didn’t follow this timeline, and we took our time to finish the 12 grapes, representing prosperity for 12 months of the new year.
Right after eating the grapes, everyone got a hug and a kiss, first from the person standing next to you, and then one by one, everyone got a hug, in a kind of do-si-do dance procession.
By the way, I also read that you are supposed to wear colorful underwear! On Fodor’s 12 Weird New Year’s Eve Traditions Around the World, I read that in Latin American countries such as Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil, the color of your panties determines what kind of year you’ll have. Red will bring love and romance while yellow will lead to wealth and success. White represents peace and harmony and green signifies well-being and nature.
Tonight we met with my daughter-in-law’s paternal relatives who had driven from Mexico City in three cars for baby Andrés’ baptism on December 30. I had already been warned that we would not be eating until midnight, just as we did for Christmas Eve. We met at a cousin’s house whose family was away for the holidays, so all the dishes were served on plastic so as not to mess up the kitchen.
The first course was two types of pasta, one with a red sauce, and the other with a mildly spicy green sauce—I guessed that it represented long life.
The main dish was “La Pierna,” a rolled roasted pork, a typical New Year’s entrée. It had a ground almond filling.
Another typical dish was “bacalao,” a dried cod dish in a tomato sauce. I have eaten this in previous holidays, as prepared by my son’s mother-in-law who has come to California for the last two Christmases. The dried cod becomes tender when hydrated, and is stewed with chiles and green olives. Everyone was amazed at my son Stephen, who ate the whole chile used to season the dish (Yes, it was very spicy!)
Another dish which was served was Romeritos, which reminded me so much of the Hawaiian lau lau, except that it contained shrimp instead of butterfish. Here’s a quick definition: Romeritos is a Mexican dish, consisting of sprigs of a plant known as Romerito that looks like rosemary, therefore its name. Usually served with nopal, dried shrimp and potatoes in a mole sauce.
I left the party about 2:15 am, and I don’t know how long the rest of the family stayed up. It seems like the Mexicans are night owls, for sure!