New Year's Eve celebrations at Plaza Cort. | LAURA BECERRA


Each New Years Eve, as the church clocks strike midnight across Mallorca, Spain and many regions of Latin America, many revellers are far too busy stuffing green grapes into their mouths to even think about swigging champagne, setting off fireworks, or kissing their beloved to the echo of ringing chimes. And why? You might well be asking yourself.

Well . . . traditionally, or superstitiously (depending on how you look at it), chomping down on twelve green grapes in twelve seconds flat, is a joyous tradition which is supposed to guarantee you luck and good fortune throughout the coming year; with the popular ‘grape challenge’ translating as one grape swallowed with each chime of the midnight clock. Not an easy feat I might add, particularly if you forgot to buy the tiny seedless variety and ended up with plum sized grapes bursting with dreaded pips!

According to the ritual, each individual grape, swallowed on a bell strike, guarantees the joy of prosperity through one coming month of the New Year. On the downside, assuming you haven’t already choked in the process, failure to devour your twelve festive grapes by the time the church clock rings out its final midnight chime, means the possibility of misfortune throughout the coming year – not something any of us really want to invite into our charmed lives! Why tempt fate with such a negative outcome? And which bright bod even thought of this TikTok’esque challenge in the first place?

VALENCIA - NOCHEVIEJA - Las uvas, listas para Nochevieja, aunque con una calidad mermada por el calor.
The tiny seedless grapes are a favourite.

However, this Twelve Grape Challenge is now a popping tradition observed by millions of people and many cultures around the globe. In South America and Mexico, revellers sit under tables to scoff their traditional green globes, while social media users worldwide have been practicing speed-eating bunches of grapes under tables for weeks, with the additional add-on of running into the street afterwards with an open suitcase hoping, I suppose, for a better shot at collecting all that much needed good luck and fortune raining from the heavens. And although the suitcase part isn’t traditional or originally practiced as the ‘12 grape’ norm, those TikTokers, with their inexhaustible posts, seriously deserve all the good luck they can collect heading into 2024.

Many people, including those back home in the UK, have their very own weird and wonderful New Year traditions, either regional or personal, passed down through the generation of families, and celebrated with gusto as the New Year chimes in.

With my mother hailing from Northern Borders, ‘first footing’ was always our practised custom on New Year’s Eve, involving a dark-haired man being thrust outside into the freezing cold, moments before midnight, resolutely clutching a large knob of coal! Bit random? The dark-haired man would miss celebrating the twelve 0’clock chimes completely, yet invoked tradition by ensuring that the very first person to be welcomed into the house after midnight would be a dark-haired stranger bearing the gift of coal! A weird tradition, yet one played out every year in our family with poor Uncle Ron risking pneumonia each time he was kicked outside to wait in the coal shed. I must say Uncle Ron was quite relieved when his naturally dark hair finally turned silver and a new dark-haired victim was anointed to take over his role.

I think the ‘coal’ part represented the concept of ensuring that the house would always be warm and welcoming, both physically and spiritually. Not sure where the dark-haired man bit comes in? Perhaps that was originally initiated by a lonely single lady! And the downing of a dram or two of whisky once inside the house? Well, that was definitely Uncle Ron’s idea!

When I lived on the glorious coast of North Somerset within the picturesque realms of the Exmoor National Park, we were acquainted with a rather eccentric lady of certain years who presided over an exremely interesting New Year’s tradition of her very own. Once the owner of a large, grand hotel overlooking the harbour weir, her life was graced with grandeur, and favoured the memory of good, if not slightly ostentatious living.

One New Year’s Eve in particular, guests at her rather formal party were invited near midnight to sit with their glass of champagne around a magnificent open fireplace. We perched, roasting chestnuts on shovels over the hot coals with newspapers open on our laps to collect the shells. Twelve chestnuts to be precise, yet not necessarily all expected to be eaten within twelve seconds flat, simply roasted and eaten at leisure. The custom was, at midnight, the empty husks and shells would be tossed into the fire, and a wish would be made as the shells popped and flared like tiny fire crackers dancing amidst the flames.

Our eccentric host informed us that this was her family tradition and had been re-enacted for years. She then removed her false teeth and lay them on the open newspaper on her lap, full set top and bottom, which was not part of the tradition but merely to stop the nuts getting under her new plate.
After a few glasses of bubbly and a good cracking of chestnuts the midnight chimes began. Lady Wotsit (real name withheld to protect the identity of the mischievously maligned) picked up the newspaper in her lap and ‘whooshed’ the entire contents of shells along with her teeth, into the roaring fire. We all stared in disbelief at the smiling dentures grinning back at us from the glowing coals. “Oh, dear! Happy New Year,” lisped our hostess with gummy festive cheer, totally unfazed by the faux pas. I will never forget that unfortunate yet hilarious midnight moment, and often wonder if Lady Wotsit would have been better off sucking twelve silky grapes like they do here in Mallorca! At least her NewYear’s Smile would have been intact as she lisped her way through the rousing choruses of ‘Auld Lang Thyne!

Joyous pip-free grapes to all.