Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Underwear, grapes and bubbly

I missed out on the red underwear last night. I forgot all about it. Blue and grey I think. And when I was looking for some background on the underwear I came across another New Year's tradition that I didn't know about. It makes sense though and ties in with a famous Christmas TV ad. And, of course, the grapes, the grapes.

Anne Igartiburu and Ramón García were last nights presenters as the camera focused on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. Numbers in the square were limited for the first time ever. Just 25,000 people. The ball in the tower slides down, the clock begins with the quarter chimes - not yet, not yet — a pause then the twelve chimes. On each chime we have to pop a grape into our mouth. One for each month of the year. The grapes have pips. The grapes, well nearly all of them, come from near us from the valley of the Vinalopó. Eat them all before the bell tolls fade away and you will have good luck for the year.

The story goes that the tradition of the grapes is a marketing ploy invented by the wily grape growers of Alicante after they had a bumper harvest about a century ago. There are other stories that tie the tradition to rich people from Madrid copying a French fad. Whatever the origins the lucky grapes - las uvas de la suerte - are now as symbolic of New Year as Auld Lang Syne is to Britons.

The typical grapes are white Aledo grapes which are harvested in late November and December. They are protected by Denominación de Origen or D.O. status which means that there are specific rules about how the grapes can be grown and harvested. When buds first form in June and July they are wrapped in paper bags and kept covered as they ripen. Originally this was done to keep off a plague of moths but nowadays the growers say it maintains the flavour and concentrates the aroma of the grapes as well as slowing down their maturation.

We had proper grapes this year because we were in a restaurant and they supplied them but sometimes, when we've not been sure where we are going to end up at midnight we have taken the precaution of buying a small can of ready peeled, de-pipped grapes so that we are ready when the time comes.

We should have been wearing red underwear too and to do it right the underwear should have been given by someone else. I've heard it said that this is a general good luck charm and that the tradition started because red was such a vibrant life affirming colour. Nowadays it's often associated with good luck in love. I'd have thought that might have had more to do with underwear being removed.

Grapes for general luck, underwear for luck in love and gold for luck in things financial. After eating the grapes, Spaniards, and Britons in Spanish company, generally drink cava, the sparkling wine most of which is produced in Catalunya. Apparently we should drop something gold into the glass of bubbly, drink the entire glassful in one go and retrieve the gold to assure our financial success in the coming year. The Freixenet Cava telly ad always features lots of gold

We didn't get a cotillón in the restaurant. A cotillón is a a fun bag with party poppers, paper hats and suchlike. I only mention it here because I was amused by the name for the thing that has a curled tube of paper that flicks out and screeches when you blow into the mouthpiece. I don't know if we have a consistent name for them in English as my Googling produced party horn, screamer, tweeter, squeaker and noise-maker but in peninsular Spanish they are called matasuegras - mother in law killers. Ho, Ho.

Happy New Year.

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