Safer New Year Celebrations: Rethinking Grape Tradition

Should Tradition Give Way To Safety?

Traditional Spanish New Year. Credit: phatymak's studio/

Is it time for Spain to rethink a beloved New Year’s tradition for the sake of safety?

On December 31, a time-honoured custom, deeply rooted in Spain and adopted by countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico, and Peru, comes to life. People gather to eat twelve grapes at each chime of the midnight bells, hoping to bring fortune in the coming year.

The Tradition And Its Risks

This practice, although festive, carries a significant risk, especially for the elderly and young children.

The Spanish Society of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery (SEORL-CCC) proposes extending the interval between chimes from three to five seconds.

This change aims to reduce the choking hazard grapes pose. Their soft texture and flexible skin, coupled with inadequate chewing capabilities in children and the elderly, make grapes a common cause of choking.

Choking Hazards And Prevention

Choking on grapes is a major concern, ranking third as a cause of choking in children under five, behind sausages and sweets.

In Spain, over 2,000 individuals die annually from choking, making it the third leading cause of non-natural death.

The SEORL-CCC stresses the importance of vigilance, especially with vulnerable groups like the elderly and very young children.

To mitigate risks, experts advise against grape consumption among children under five. For others, practical measures include peeling grapes and removing seeds, or cutting them into smaller pieces.

Choosing alternative foods is another option, but nuts, another common choking hazard, should be avoided, especially for children under two.

Rounding Off The First Minute

The SEORL-CCC’s suggestion not only enhances safety but also symbolically aligns with the start of the new year. Twelve grapes eaten at an interval of five seconds each would neatly conclude the first minute of the year, possibly starting a new tradition focused on wellbeing and inclusivity.

Is it time for tradition to evolve for safety’s sake? The discussion continues, as communities weigh the joy of customs against the imperative of protecting their most vulnerable members.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.


    • Gerry

      01 January 2024 • 20:47

      Traditions need to kept, but take care folks

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