As with any excuse for a party, in Spain New Year’s Eve is a big celebration. However, to the dismay of foreign visitors, towns and villages tend to seem dead until well after midnight. Bars and restaurants will be closed – apart from those restaurants that have organised a special Nochevieja gala dinner, for which you would need to have reserved.
The night starts with a special family dinner, consisting of countless courses including, but definitely not limited to, jamón serrano, Manchego cheese, prawns, scallops, oysters, roast suckling pig, leg of baby lamb, chicken, beef, tortilla (potato omelette) … (In Gabriel’s impoverished world, the meal would probably have consisted of home-grown vegetables with locally caught fish, rabbit or goat, local wine and grapes.)
At midnight, it is imperative to toast the New Year with cava and eat twelve grapes for twelve months’ good luck. Most families nowadays will watch the televised countdown in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square. Four big strikes of the famous clock tower denote the hour change, followed by the all-important twelve smaller strikes during which everyone in Spain will be trying to eat their twelve grapes, one per strike. Dribbling and near-choking simply add to the general hilarity. (It helps to have bought the small tins each containing twelve small seedless peeled grapes.)
After you’ve swallowed all your grapes, you can kiss your loved ones and toast the New Year with cava. Those not celebrating at home will tend to gather in the town’s central square, often wearing masks or fancy dress and, of course, armed with the all-important grapes and cava.
Those who have celebrated at home will tend to go out into the streets afterwards and party through the night. Even in small villages, the town hall might lay on a marquee, a bar, a stage with band or DJ, and possibly fireworks, rounded off with light refreshments at dawn.
The New Year has begun – and there are only four days to recover until it’s time to celebrate the next Fiesta, Kings!