Here's a Spanish custom for you today:
Tonight, at 12 o'clock, a big fat clock at the 0 km of Madrid will start chiming. The 0 km is where all the roads start counting kilometres, since until recently all roads went through Madrid (and people still wonder why the Catalans and Basques hate us...)
So, first you have the warning chimes, which are like seconds or something and then you get the gong, gong, gong of the actual hour. So, with each gong, you're 'sposed to eat one grape. If you don't choke and die by the end of the twelve gongs and have managed to finish your twelve grapes, you'll be lucky for the next year!
Pagan custom? I don't think so.
In the 18th century there was a huge harvest of grapes. So the grape people went to the King, who was Charles III and said: Oh, mighty King, may we throw the grapes into the sea so that the insurance company will pay us monies?
And the King said: you may not, for those insurance companies of which you speak do not yet exist, although I may have to invent them for my private profit. Instead, let us con a whole nation into eating grapes on New Year's Eve, so that the harvest will be sold, and at a great price.
And so it was.
But, but, but... was that the end of Teh Spanish Crazy?
No! One fine year, in a little town (don't remember well), the lights went out on New Year's Eve so that they couldn't eat their grapes watching their TV's. And so the inhabitants went to the Mayor and said: Oh, woe on us, who didn't eat our grapes. Are we unlucky for the coming year?
And the Mayor said: Not in the least, we'll change the date to August 31st and eat grapes anyway and advertise in the papers and get lots of tourists because, really, New Year's is fine, but it'd be better if it were warmer.
And so it was. And now that town lives off tourism. On August 31st.
That's Spain for you.
So, gotta go choke on my grapes and cava (Spanish equivalent to Champagne, but the French don't let us call it Champagne, for some reason). Some people buy their grapes canned and peeled, but my family are all macho (and cheap about it) and our grapes have skins and pits to chew/choke on. When I was younger I remember the chimes went faster, but they've been slowed as a result of the aging Spanish population (we wouldn't want any of the old folks to die, now would we?) and as a result the tradition has been completely sissified. Oh well, macho customs of choking for luck don't last forever.
So, happy New Year or whatever crazy passes for New Year wherever you come from. And don't choke on your grapes. Sour or otherwise.
(By the way, my History is like my reviews: a helluva a lot of embellishment + one pinch of truth. Don't take me to court for that: I like my reality distorted. It's a lot more fun this way. So there)