So you’re telling me I have to eat 12 grapes under the table, while wearing red underwear and somehow running around with a packed suitcase on New Year’s Eve? Well, not exactly.
When you’re looking for luck — whether it’s related to love, money, or travel — in the coming year, traditions can depend on your cultural background. Some well-known food traditions include tamales on New Year’s Day and hearty dishes using black-eyed peas like Hoppin’ John. (And, of course, champagne at midnight.)
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But there are so many other traditions now coming to light on TikTok. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.
What’s the deal with eating 12 grapes?
If you scroll through TikTok, you may have seen a lot of users talking about eating 12 grapes at midnight. This is actually not new, dating back to 19th-century Spain.
According to Atlas Obscura, the 12 grapes signify the 12 months of the year. You eat one grape at each chime of the clock at midnight, and if you can’t finish the grapes by the time the chimes end, you will face misfortune in the new year. (TikTok user @smallbizcassie, who says she learned the tradition while living in Mexico, shares a pro tip: Use smaller grapes!)
The New Year’s custom has somewhat morphed over the course of history. Now, it’s been grafted to a Latin American tradition of sitting under a table and an Italian tradition of wearing red underwear. It can be confusing to some – just ask TikTok user @groovygrampa21, who is worried about trying to get it all done in time.
The 12 grapes tradition also has been featured in various media, including an episode of the ABC comedy Modern Family. On a New Year’s episode from 2013, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) explains to Jay (Ed O’Neill) how that tradition helped her go from being “a single mother living in a slum” to driving to Palm Springs with her rich husband in five years.
So, if you’re in need of some of Gloria’s luck, or if you’re curious about cultural customs around the world, set aside 12 grapes for when the clock strikes midnight — just remember to chew carefully, because no one wants to start the new year off with a health emergency.
What about running with a suitcase?
As @groovygrampa21 added on her TikTok, she’s also trying to roll a suitcase behind her at midnight. What’s that about?
According to the University of Southern California’s Folklore Archives, this is likely based on a Peruvian tradition of packing a suitcase and running around the block with it. This is said to bring good luck in your travels in the coming year.
Why around the block? The folklore suggests it has to do with the cyclical nature of the calendar year.
Whatever the reason, there are more than a few TikTok users proclaiming that it worked for them. For example, during a visit to Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture, @spicyalohoe recalls she ran with her suitcase before entering a year filled with travel.
What other food trends are there for New Year’s Eve?
A Japanese tradition is built around soba noodles, made from buckwheat. According to Savor Japan, a Japanese restaurant guide, closing the year with buckwheat’s heartiness will help you endure the year ahead, while the noodles’ ability to break easily will help you let go, or break away from, the past. Also, these noodles are long, linking them to a long life.
Starting the year with osechi, or a traditional New Year’s assortment of symbolic foods, is said to usher in happiness, scholarship, stability, and other positive attributes. Mochi, or sticky rice cakes, are also a popular New Year’s treat in Japan; it’s advised that you cut them up before eating because they can be a choking hazard (and again, let’s avoid health emergencies on New Year’s Day).
Lentils also figure into several traditions, including those in Brazil and Spain. In both countries, lentils are said to represent coins (similar to black-eyed peas), and eating them is said to bring good fortune. Then there’s the tradition of eating pork (because pigs root forward) and not chicken (because chickens scratch backward).
Whatever your tradition, or if you’re trying a new one, enjoying something delicious at midnight sounds like the perfect way to start the new year. Just remember to chew responsibly.