December 30, 2011

Here and There: Nochevieja in Spain, New Year's Eve in the U.S.

In most respects New Year's Eve, a.k.a. Nochevieja, in Spain and the United States are pretty similar. In both countries it is customary to get together with your close friends, countdown to midnight, and celebrate the new year with some libation—usually cava or sparkling wine—and reflect (only briefly) on 'the days gone by' and the fresh new year ahead.

This said, over the years I've noticed some signature differences between the two countries which I'll share here.

• The perfect setting:
USA: A friend's house party – Most people will probably celebrate New Years in the US in a friend's (or friend of a friend's) house.
Spain: Go back to the pueblo or purchase an all-in-one night out at a club – While some people in Spain also celebrate at a friend's house, I think more people either head back to their family's pueblo, where the festivities can be intense, or they buy an all-in-one package night at one of the many clubs which cater to New Year's festivities in the city.

Time Square on New Year's Eve

Nochevieja at Puerta del Sol

• What to wear:
Spain: Fire-engine red underwear – I kid you not. In Spain, one tradition is that you should wear bright red underwear, which will bring you luck for the new year. (Sort of the way Anglophones wear green on St. Patrick's Day.)

• Balls drop, bells chime:
These two locations are not _the_ place to be for New Year's, and are really only filled with tourists and out-of-town visitors. But all eyes are probably turned to these two iconic squares at midnight. In the US people will often tune their TVs in to Time Square, while in Spain they'll watch the clock strike midnight at the Puerta del Sol...
USANew York City's Time Square – The traditional mark for the new year at Time Square is the drop of the bright shiny ball, which touches down at midnight.
Spain: Madrid's Puerta del Sol – In Madrid it is all about the clock striking midnight and the twelve chimes (las campanadas) for each hour which signal the dramatic ritual of the grapes...

A ball drops at midnight in the States

Bells chime at midnight in Spain

• Midnight rituals:

USA: Kiss your loved one – Given that this tradition is so common in the States, and happens in every single movie about New Year's, I've been surprised how little Spaniards are aware that, for Americans, it is important to kiss your partner first thing after midnight on the New Year. It is such a tradition that Americans have consecrated it in the way they know best, by creating movie after movie where the central plot device is that the frustrated couple finally come together for the big kiss (the example par excellence being When Harry Met Sally (1989)).
Spain: Las (doce) uvas y las campanadas – Be prepared! At midnight in Spain, it is a must to eat twelve grapes, each one eaten at the sounding of a bell marking the twelve hours struck at twelve o'clock. If you fail to do so it is very bad luck. (This tradition is probably only about 50 years old, but you wouldn't know it for how intense Spaniards can be about trying to meet this midnight challenge.)

Grapes ready for midnight, cava ready for toasting, Christmas turron ready for snacking

So important is this grape-eating tradition that in Spain you can find these
ready-made-for-two packages of grapes, each can with 12 peeled-and-deseeded grapes

• The right soundtrack:
USA: Auld Lang Syne – Again, given how traditional this song is for bringing in the new year in Anglophone cultures, it's interesting how little Spaniards know about it. But this song is a classic, and chances are, much like lovers kissing at midnight, you'll hear this song playing in the background in any cheasy American movie about starting off the new year. It's a nice song, and I confess I get a bit sentimental when I hear it. The whole point of the song is to remind us all that there are those people from long ago in our pasts, who might be worth remembering at this moment when we're looking forward.

"Auld lang syne" is Scots language for "old long since,"
meaning 'days gone by' or 'long, long ago'

• New Year obsessions:
USA: New Year's Resolutions lists – America's obsession with self-improvement thrives around this time of year. Starting January 1st you will hear much commentary about one's "new year resolution" (dieting an all-time favorite, landing a job a crisis-era close second). (Confessions: I'm writing my annual list of five things to improve.) This is not such a big thing in Spain, but very big in the US.

And I leave 2011 behind with that. Those are all the differences that come to mind for the moment. Please comment away if you can think of others.

Happy New Year! ¡Feliz año nuevo!

10 comments:

Mother Theresa said...

He, he, my Tumblr blog is Not Hemmingway's Pamplona. :) I like your comparison of New Year's in Spain and the US. We'll be celebrating at home, and then our kids will dress up in costume and go out to a party after midnight...dressing in costume is typical here in Pamplona. I'd like to add one thing...a song for Spain. I'd have to say the New Year's song over here would have to be "Un año más" by Mecano. Well, Happy New Year to you! :)

jm said...

Lo de la ropa interior roja es verdad, pero alguien tiene que avertela regalado, si te la compras tu no vale.
Sobre la bola de Time Square es algo que se tomo prestado de nuestra puerta del sol, fíjate este año al terminar los cuatro cuartos, la bola que está debajo del reloj caerá y empezaran las campanadas de verdad, los españoles no le damos importancia a esa bola por que forma parte del mecanismo del reloj, pero esta ay.
Feliz entrada y salida de año.

Cassandra said...

I was in the Puerta del Sol when 2010 turned into 2011, and it was complete madness! Wigs, cava, confetti, uvas--the festive atmosphere and the mountains of botellon trash left afterward were the most impressive I'd ever seen.

Sorokin said...

With your permission, I borrow your video of "Auld Lang Syne".

Happy new year. Feliz año nuevo

An Expat in Spain said...

Thank you all for your comments! I hope you all have a wonderful evening tonight, and a happy new year!

Mother Theresa, I discovered your tumblr a while back when I was double checking my name. You're at Hemingway ground-zero, so it's a great name for the visual experiments you post there. Thanks for the 411 on costumes and Mecano. Now that you mention it, I think I've seen kids dress up here, too. And I definitely recognize 'Un año más'. We'll see if it reaches the level of tradition of auld lang syne.

Sorokin, you are always welcome to use whatever materials or information you find here. The YouTube videos I link to aren't mine, though I believe they are open to public use if you give them linkback credit. My personal favorite version of 'Auld Lang Syne' is instrumental, by Guy Lombardo (1953):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vfBVbIe25g

An Expat in Spain said...

Jm, a.k.a. josema_101, no sabía eso de la importancia de regalar (o recibir como regalo) la ropa de interior roja. A ver si los reyes me traen eso este 6 de enero. Es verdad que en los últimos años han montado una bolita en la Puerta del Sol, que es una curiosa importación. Gracias por mencionar los cuatro cuartos. Siempre me lio y creo que el primer cuarto es la primera campanada para tomar las uvas.

Cassandra, Puerta del Sol always looks like quite a party on TV. I've been to both NYC's Time Square and Paris's Champs Elysées for New Year's, and I suspect Madrid can give them a run for their money.

¡Feliz año nuevo!

jm said...

Te equivocas tú y yo. Yo me he equivocado en que la bola baja después de los cuartos, en realidad lo hace antes. Y tú te equivocas en que la bola es un añadido,
El reloj se fabrico en 1863 Y su mecanismo no ha sido modificado desde entonces, más información en http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reloj_de_Gobernación

Mr Grumpy said...

I had the misfortune to be away from Spain for NYE this year and spend it in the UK. What a damp squib - just based around people getting drunk and moaning about what a bad year 2011 had been. Can't wait to get back home.

Nieves said...

What a great post about Noche Vieja here and in the US, very good indeed. En mi familia celebramos estas fiestas juntándonos todos para comer en las cuatro celebraciones importantes (eso si, yo creo que en estas fiestas lo que más se hace es ¡COMER Y COMER! y acabas realmente edmpachado de tanta comida). Te deseo que tengas un 2012 lleno de felicidad y prosperidad para ti y para toda tu familia. Happy New Year! Muchos besos y abrazos,

An Expat in Spain said...

JM, si la información de Wikipedia es correcta, la bola del reloj de Puerta del Sol es cuatro décadas mas antigua que la de Time Square. ¡Que cosa!

Mr. Grumpy, it sounds like you need to rush back to Spain where people know how to have a good time even when they (and the whole world) think they're screwed. No pesky little global economic crisis is going to spoil _our_ Nochevieja!

Nieves, tienes toda la razón. Creo que la gente en España come una barbaridad la Nochevieja, casi como si fuera una manera de asegurar que el año que viene sea mejor. ¡Feliz año nuevo a ti y a toda tu familia también, y un abrazo fuerte!

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