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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Celebrating the New Year in Tenerife

Lucky Grapes

On New Year's Eve, Nochevieja (which translates better to Old Year's Night), or San Silvestre as it is called in Spain, celebrations revolve around the eating of the grapes at midnight.

The idea is to eat twelve "lucky" grapes (Uvas de la Suerte), one grape on each stroke of the clock - all suitably and necessarily (it is extremely difficult to do) washed down with Cava: Spanish bubbly - a tradition that is believed to have come from the ancient wine-growers.

The New Year is heralded in Spain via the twelve chimes from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid: an hour later in the Canaries (actually, the same time as the UK) (Twice on TV, if you watch a Spanish channel and a Canarian one) or locally, with those of the Cabildo (Island Corporation) building in Santa Cruz in Tenerife or their counterpart in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The two locations take it in turns.

New Year's Eve is a night for going out. After the chimes, there will usually be fireworks and in many places, there will be a Verbena: all-night street-party with dancing to a Salsa band or a disco.

Another custom (or superstition, if you prefer, but even those who aren't superstitious will probably observe these "just in case") is to wear your very best, new clothes for this party. Wearing new clothes symbolises starting the year from scratch. You should also wear red underwear because it's the colour of happiness and good luck.

In Santa Cruz, the Plaza de España will be packed with people and atmosphere if you're looking for fun, as will the church square in Los Cristianos, if you happen to be in the south.

But most large and even small towns have New Years' parties. In Garachico, we've danced to an open air disco (yeah, Jan 1 in the open air, at night, te he) in the town square in front of the bandstand and watched the fireworks set off from the Town Hall roof. There were "party bags" (consisting of the obligatory silly hat, noise makers and packet of grapes) laid on for anyone who turned up. And you get to keep company with the big fish in these small ponds, as the Mayor of Garachico was host.

Unlike so many journalists writing about the resorts, Pamela has not only actually been to Tenerife, she lived on the island for 16 years, for the majority of that time in a rural valley immersed in the local culture in a way that few outsiders have been privileged to do and gaining a wealth of knowledge about the island, its people, their customs, fiestas and celebrations that she is now able to share via this site. Fluent in Spanish, she also translated and reported for the various English-language newspapers.

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