Traditions: New Year's Eve in Spain

champagne bottles

Dear Lee,

Not only will you find some differences in the way Spaniards celebrate Christmas, but if you stick around for the end of the year, you’ll surely be surprised by some of the New Year’s Eve celebrations too. Here are a few things you simply must know for the big night!

Aside from toasting with cava, Spain's version of champagne, the most widely-spread and important tradition revolves around the grapes!  As the clock strikes midnight, everyone will eat one grape for every stroke of the clock and those who manage to eat all 12 grapes before the twelfth campañada (ding) are supposed to have good luck in the year to come. I remember thinking that it all sounds easy enough, but actually it’s a bit more difficult that you might imagine.

Unlike in the United States, the majority of grapes here in Spain have seeds and if you’re not used to that it will likely gross you out or at least slow you down. For the sake of time, most Spaniards tell me they just go ahead and eat those 12+ seeds. I tried to do so last year, however, and it did not work for me. I got through perhaps seven grapes before I felt like I was munching on nothing but seeds and threw in the towel. If you want to avoid this altogether, you have two options.

Don't forget to pick up your grapes for the big night!

Don't forget to pick up your grapes for the big night!

1.) At this time of year you’ll find “12 grapes” especially packaged for this tradition and it’s relatively easy to find seedless one, too.

2.) You can personally open up and remove the seeds yourself before midnight.

Pro tip: It might also help you out to peel your grapes, as some Spaniards will do.

Keep in mind that, depending on who you are with, either of these may be ‘looked down on’ as cheating. However, by this point I’m sure you’ve learned that sometimes you just need to choose your battles. If eating grapes, seeds and all, is not gonna work for you but you really want a shot at the good luck this tradition promises…well, you just go about it the way you need to!

Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that New Year’s Eve is generally considered to be family time. That’s to say that most Spaniards will have a big meal at home, watch the countdown on TV, and carry out their 12-grapes tradition with family (before going out for the night around 1 or 2am, of course!). On the other hand, it is also common to eat out on New Year’s Eve night but there is something VERY important to know if you plan to do so yourself—

Almost all restaurants will limit their menu this night to ONE (or two) New Year’s Eve specials. It may sound lovely (and, sure, it’s usually delicious!) but this meal is then intended to become your plans for the night. Which is to say that it will typically not cost less than 40€/person (more in bigger city and for better restaurants) and will include a glass of cava at midnight (I wouldn’t dare try to get the servers to speed your meal up).

Of course, ringing in the new year in your city's main  plaza  is a popular option as well.

Of course, ringing in the new year in your city's main plaza is a popular option as well.

This sounds like a classy way to ring in the new year and so I am certainly interested in going about my NYE plans this way some day. However, it felt like a nightmare last year when we realized that we might not have anywhere decent to eat dinner before 10:30/11pm, when we wanted to head to a New Years party that we had already paid for (which was not serving dinner). Fortunately, we lucked out by finding (what seemed like) the only restaurant NOT serving a NYE feast in the nick-of-time. Still, save yourself the stress and plan ahead!

Finally, if you’re looking for a little extra luck with love in the new year, be sure to get yourself a pair of red undies! That’s right, Spaniards believe that wearing red undergarments on New Year’s Eve will help Cupid’s arrow find its way to you in the upcoming year. To my surprise, this tradition is taken rather seriously—the hosts of one of the Spanish TV channel’s countdowns literally hosted the show in their red undies last year! Definitely not what I expected…

Are you getting excited about spending New Year’s Eve here in Spain? Let us know which traditions you plan to take part in and have a safe celebration!



P.S. As far as New Year's Day goes...
Here in Spain you may also be warned to ensure you start off the year on the right foot—literally, you are apparently supposed to use your right foot for the first step out of your house on New Year’s Day (or for your first step after midnight or a number of other variations depending on who you talk to). I find this especially funny as it’s not a play on words in Spanish! Derecho (as in right foot) has nothing to do with correcto (as in the right way), so I don’t really get it, but who am I to judge? Finally, you may want to get yourself some lentil soup as it is the traditional meal to eat on January 1st, ensuring you luck and prosperity for the year to come!