As in any culture, folklore and stories are kept alive and well from generation to generation. Certain customs become more embraced than others and perhaps even lean to an impractical belief or action. Nevertheless, the stories and legends cast a spell and help explain why each culture embraces certain practices for life in general, or for a particular holiday or celebration. As Americans (Texans to be more specific), living part of our lives now in Mexico, we find ourselves embracing the Mexican culture as our own.
With this in mind, I was curious as to which particular New Year's customs that my Mexican friends actually believe, recreate and embrace for this one holiday that is all about new beginnings. I talked to Raul (remember he is our friend from Aguascalientes that artfully restored the old hacienda doors inside our beachside casa) last week with a list of questions about his family customs and rituals on New Year’s Eve. Raul and Tyler, his son, live in the family home (that I have been blessed to visit) and yes they actively believe, embrace and practice certain New Year’s Eve customs that were completely new to me. Raul laughed as he explained to me that the Mexican culture embraces curious and fun customs to bring in the new year. First, Raul begins, we eat grapes. What? Yes, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, each person is given twelve grapes (seedless preferred) to be eaten one at a time before the stroke of midnight. Each grape represents a month of the new year and a wish is made as each grape is consumed. Known as “las doce uvas de la suerte” (the twelve lucky grapes), Raul was so surprised that Americans did not (as a rule) practice this custom and that I had never even heard of the practice. But, I must admit, I like the idea. It’s practical, easy and healthy, I’m in!
Secondly, at the stroke of midnight, the front door is opened and the ceremonial sweeping of the floor is religiously performed. Sweeping out the bad things of the past year and preparing for the blessings of the new one. Okay, that makes sense but I believe the third custom performed in Raul’s casa is my favorite. Again, at the stroke of midnight, an empty suitcase awaits the annual ritual. The family member that hopes to do a lot of traveling in the new year, picks up the suitcase and walks out the front door. Raul said that some people run around the outside of their casa, wishing for travel; but if a person wants to travel far and wide, they run around the block with the suitcase! In my opinion, this is the most entertaining one and besides, I love to travel, so I will give it a try this year! Raul explained that there are several other superstitions that are believed, but these are the family favorites. After a little research, I did find quite a fun list of customs and superstitions: for instance, the practice of putting dried lentils in one’s pocket or eating a spoonful of cooked ones. This, of course, is right in line with the American custom of eating at least one black-eyed pea on New Year’s Day for good luck.
So Feliz ano nuevo and a Happy New Year! I’m off to buy some grapes, find my broom, if I can remember where I put it after Halloween, and unpack my suitcase. Thanks Raul for sharing your family customs and for your never ending humor that makes us smile.