Boisterous crowds start gathering early in front of the Royal Post Office* in the Puerta del Sol plaza in downtown Madrid. They bring grapes — grapes are essential.
Television stations broadcast the event live. Women in scanty evening gowns speak to cameras as they stand on balconies overlooking the scene, in weather so cold that viewers at home can see their breaths. Their male counterparts may wear traditional Spanish wool capes over tuxedos.
Everyone has their twelve grapes ready. Except for the crazy people at Puerta del Sol, everyone is at home with their extended families enjoying a festive holiday dinner. You can't bring in the new year without Grandma and Grandpa at your side. Also, be sure to wear red underwear for luck. Grandma is.
At midnight, the brass ball in the clock tower on the Royal Post Office begins to drop. The giant 143-year-old mechanical clock starts to strike twelve. At each stroke, everyone eats a grape, with three seconds between each chime. Some people have seeded and even skinned their grapes. Chewing is optional, and you don't need to have swallowed them all when the bell stops chiming. The essential thing is to have put all twelve in your mouth by then, one for good luck during each coming month.
Then you cheer, hug and kiss everyone, pour a glass of something bubbly, and watch the televised fireworks display at Sol. I will be able to see it from my window. Spaniards can blow off an impressive display in the middle of a crowded city with little or no property damage.
That's my plan for tonight.
¡Feliz salida y entrada del año! Happy exit and entrance of the year!
(*The building stopped being a post office a long time ago. During the Franco regime, it was a police headquarters, and people were tortured there. No one likes to remember that. They also don't like to remember that it currently houses the offices of the head of the regional government. It's the Royal Post Office: always has been, always will be.)