Sunday, January 3, 2010

Good grapes, it's the new year!

So much can be learned when you're traveling, and I'm always the first to support the ritual of picking a place to travel to, getting a ticket to fly there, then go. Sometimes though, you learn cool worldly things right in your own back yard.

We've started hanging out with my wife's family as a tradition on new year's eve (Noche Vieja, meaning Old Night in Spanish). My brother-in-law, nearly as Ukrainian as I am, is married to a wonderful and spunky girl from Venezuela. She's an amazing cook, and not only did she bring along a lot of family recipes with her, she also brought along much of her family! This includes her mother and two sisters.

Last year for New Year's we were gathering at one of the sister's houses, and just as we were about to do our count down to midnight, two most interesting items appeared - the first was an empty suitcase, and the second was a large bowl of freshly washed grapes. Very intrigued, I could easily see what role a bowl of grapes could play at any social gathering, but the suitcase I have to say seemed, well, odd. I had to ask, and so I did. Turns out these items are crucial components that come from traditions based in their homeland in Venezuela, and both have relevance near midnight. What she did with the suitcase was fascinating to someone like me who starts to get excited every time I even see my suitcase in the basement - just after midnight, in the cold of the night, she took it outside, made a complete walk around the block (I'm not sure how far back 'wheeled luggage' goes in these customs, but I wasn't about to interrupt the ceremony) and then she quickly came back into the house. As explained to me, this is a custom to bring good luck and plentiful travels for the year to come. I guess if there's also other people outside doing the same thing together, it's a chance to celebrate together. I'm not sure if you get different results with different sizes of suitcases, but just in case, if it was me participating in this custom, I'd be out there with a full size piece rather than just a carry-on, just hoping it would bring me a trip to somewhere far away and exotic, rather than a trip to somewhere 100 kilometers away.

Then came the grapes. Each person was to grab a dozen, and wait. As soon as it was 12 seconds to midnight, the task was to quickly pop in a grape (one grape per chime of the clock) while making a wish. You have 12 grapes, 12 wishes to make, all in 12 seconds! I'd like to think, after maybe making it through 5 grapes, 3.5 wishes, and nearly choking, that maybe with practice I could keep up with them and someday achieve 12 solid wishes that have a little more depth than 'I hope I don't choke!" I was very glad to hear that these two customs are never ever combined.

Fast forward to this year. Same people together at New Year's, this time at my brother-in-law's house. At about 11:30, a half hour to the turn of a new year and decade, I remembered the traditions of the previous year and asked how the travel thing worked out. Turns out, instead of a year filled with glorious and unrestricted travel, more money was put on the mortgage. I thought this was very sad, especially as her ritual of the previous year was done in minus 30 degree weather. That's pretty cold for any Canadian, but think about it being someone who's immigrated from a country far warmer than ours only a few years ago. I decided to not ask about any of the 12 wishes she had made while popping in grapes, as I knew it would probably remind her of how sad my performance was in that area.

It also turned out that she didn't bring her suitcase along this year, but I was happy to see that the grapes were washed and ready, and so was I. 12 hilarious seconds of adults and kids frantically making wishes and swallowing grapes whole, and a tradition I can see myself continuing, no matter where I am, or who's company I'm in.

Next year, the grapes are on me.

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