Two new learnings about Christmas and NYE in other countries

4 Jan

This was a fun Christmas and I’ve come away from it with two new factoids about the festive season and how it is celebrated in other countries.I’ve come by these new cultural learnings from some Spanish friends, with whom I spent New Years Eve getting drunk, and from  Skype call with my boyfriends’ sister-in-law who is German.

Ronaldo enjoying some NYE grapes. Pic totally stolen from the Daily Mail via Google Images. Copyright rests with Splash News.

Ronaldo enjoying some NYE grapes. Pic totally stolen from the Daily Mail via Google Images. Copyright rests with Splash News.

Factoid 1 – Germans mark the dawn of a new year by watching a rubbish 18-minute, English-language, black and white comedy sketch from 1963

I was having a Skype video conference on New Year’s Day with my boyfriend, his sister-in-law Miriam, brother and two young nieces who live near Hamburg. Miriam mentioned something about Dinner For One, but amid the slow connection and the niecelets jumping about in the background (combined with my hangover) meant I missed what she was saying but didn’t give too much more thought to it. Shortly last my boyfriend’s dad mentioned it again – saying that the elder niece, 5, had seen a man tripping over a lion head in this Dinner For One and after it was repeated a few times asked her dad, ‘is that supposed to be funny?’ – well, whatever she was on about, this was one smart pre-schooler and I had to know what she was on about. Said father of boyfriend directed me to his computer to YouTube this “Dinner For One” thing. Turns out it’s an 18-minute comedy sketch, filmed in black and white – in 1963 – in English, which is virtually unknown in the UK but enjoys cult status in Germany where it is a hard-wired staple of New Year’s Eve TV schedules. According to Wikipedia, the same goes for the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Estonian, Austrian and Faroe Island NYE telly schedules. Wikipedia also notes that the sketch appeared as the world’s most frequently repeated TV programme ever in the Guinness Book of World Records in every edition between 1988 and 1995. Apparently the Ozzies have now added it to their NYE schedules.

What’s so amazing about this sketch that entire nations down their champagne flutes and stollen to watch it every single year? I watched it but am none the wiser. Filmed in a single take, it is a simple enough tale of an elderly woman who sits down to a meal with three friends, served by an equally aged butler. Except the three friends have long since died, so as the meal wears on and a fresh alcoholic drink is served with each course, the old lady expects the butler to pretend that he is each guest, and to drink their share of the booze, whereupon he becomes progressively more drunk. With each course served the old butler trips up on the head of a tiger rug – and the audience is more entertained with incredulity each time he returns to do this – and the crux of the comedy element rests on him wearily enquiring to his employer with each course: “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” to which Miss Sophie replies: “the same procedure as every year, James!” – followed by the butler making ever more sozzled emulations of the absent friends as he staggers round the table serving the booze, then skolling it, then tripping up on the lion head. I really cannot understand what is so funny, though the director helpfully recorded live audience laughter with it, which does get progressively more ridiculous so you know where the funny bits are meant to be.

I definitely understand why my boyfriend’s niece asked her daddy if the tripping up was meant to be funny. Have a look for yourself here – then surprise and delight your German or Nordic friends by crow-barring the phrase “same procedure as every year!” into your conversation.


Factoid 2 – The Spanish eat 12 grapes, one each second for the final 12 seconds of the outgoing year, and have done for over 100 years

In a not dissimilar way to the Coca-Cola Corporation’s ingenious hijacking of the legend of Saint Nicolas to create the portly, ruddy, Coke-bringing Santa we know from their adverts who helps sell gazillions of litres of the stuff each Christmas, Spaniards across their fine country switch on their TVs armed with a fistful of grapes as the last 12 seconds of a year approach. A live, televised event, Las doce uvas de la suerte, “The twelve grapes of luck” is a cult phenomenon whereby Spaniards pop one grape for every second until the New Year strikes, gathering in Madrid’s Puerta Del Sol by the thousands to join in.

The tradition comes from some clever clog vine growers in the Alicante region who, around 1895, had had a bumper crop and needed to come up with a way to get shot of their surplus for a tasty profit. They devised the grape-eating ritual, adding on a made-up legend that to successfully much 12 grapes in 12 seconds as the New Year comes in would bring a year of prosperity to said muchee, and somehow parlayed it into Spanish dogma.

Allegedly the first time the ritual was performed was at the Puerta Del Sol tower clock, which is why it become a broadcastable event from that same site. As it goes, I learned of this on NYE when I was at a party thrown by a close Spanish friend. One of her other Spanish mates arrived with three packets of Tesco grapes, which I noticed – as you might when you’re hoping someone will supply Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert, not grapes – but didn’t think much of it until she and our other two Spanish guests started washing and decanting them into glasses to be passed to every guest. After the tradition was explained to me there was much faffing as they tried to tune into the Spanish channel broadcasting from Madrid, but as the broadband failed we resorted to Skyping a relative in Spain who counted us down as she watched it live. I was deeply sceptical that anyone could successfully chew and swallow 12 grapes in 12 seconds, but I managed it, so I expect a prosperous 2012. Another plus was seeing in the New Year twice in as many hours, being as Spain is one hour ahead.

Watch some Spaniards doing the munch of the grapes here – though this looks a bit more like a wake than a celebration.


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