Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Grapes of Wealth: Eating for Your Luck at New Year's
I shiver, 'cause used to be me and my buddy Mark would, uh, mark the moment when the year changed by hauling ourselves down to the Pacific Ocean and diving into it at one minute before midnight.
We’d swim around underwater for as long as our breaths would last, and burst back up into a — hopefully, if we’d been down long enough — new year. Mark’s lady Alisha and mine, the beautiful Carla, would be waiting on the beach with watches and towels.
This year, this weather? No freaking way.
Instead, I’m kinda glomming onto the idea of having a Good Luck feast, eating all the foods that’re supposed to set up a good year.
So, gotta eat pork: its rich, fatty flesh symbolizes wealth and prosperity in places like Cuba, Austria, Hungary.
Chomp into greens that look like folded money — collards, cabbage, kale, and chard. Sound stupid? Buddy, you’re chewing an intention right there.
In the Southern U.S., it’s black-eyed peas. At midnight, you should eat one for every day of the coming year. (They say that this custom goes back to the Civil War. The Mississippi town of Vicksburg was under siege from the North. They were running out of food when a supply of black-eyed peas was snuck in and kept them going. Ever since, they’ve considered the peas lucky.)
But the one I really like is the grape tradition from Spain. At the stroke of midnight, you’re supposed to grab a dozen grapes and eat one at each dong! of the clock bell, one for each month of the coming year. If one’s sour, you have to watch that that month doesn’t go sour on you.
Not that the custom is ancient. It only goes back to 1909, when the growers of Spain’s Alicante region had a surplus of grapes. They did this simply to get rid of all the spare grapes. Whatever, now people do it everywhere, from Portugal to Mexico.
Just make sure you swallow the last grape before the last stroke has faded.
This coming year being 2012, we need all the luck we can get, right?