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New Year's Eve in Spain is called "Nochevieja - The Old Night".  Hours before midnight on New Years Eve, tens of thousands of people gather in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol to await the chimes of the clock on the tower which dominates the Spanish capital’s central square. The excitement builds up as the magic hour approaches. Finally, at the stroke of midnight and the dawn of the new year, everyone will eat twelve grapes, one for each chime.

But, how do you know when twelve o'clock is? Well, decades ago, in many families the head of the family would pick up a pot or a pan and just hit it twelve times. Today, however, La Puerta del Sol in Madrid rules on that day. There is a clock on top the La Puerta, and when the twelve gongs start, you'd better be ready to start gulping down those grapes. Just one word of advice, before the twelve official gongs, there are the Cuartos, four gongs of a higher pitch that announce and warn you to get ready for the 12 gongs. Don't get confused and start gulping down the grapes yet. Beware of the Cuartos.

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This is a picture of La Puerta del Sol. Notice the clock just to the left of the star on the tree.  The bell is just above the clock.

Unlike many Spanish traditions the eating of grapes (tomar las uvas) is of quite recent vintage. Early in the twentieth century, according to most versions of the story, freak weather conditions resulted in an unseasonable bumper harvest of grapes. At a loss over what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual.

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