In many Latin American cultures, the most iconic part of New Year’s Eve isn’t fizzy drinks—it’s a cup of grapes. Las doce uvas de la suerte, or the 12 Grapes of Luck, is a Spanish tradition I look forward to every year for a variety of reasons, and the biggest one is… it’s just better than a New Year’s resolution.
Most of us have, at one point or another, made a promise to ourselves as one year ends and another begins, whether it was to start an exercise routine, get a new job, quit smoking, or finally finish long-neglected home repairs—the New Year’s resolution is as much a cultural fixture as Champagne and noisemakers.
And a lot of the time, it seems like failing to live up to that promise is part of the ritual too. Gym memberships swell in January and peter out over the next few months, and most of us seem to forget our yearly goals as soon as we declare them. I’ve fallen into that trap as well, barely even remembering my resolution until it’s time to make the next one—but then I remembered that my people have a better way: the 12 Grapes of Luck.
For the uninitiated, the 12 Grapes of Luck involves eating 12 grapes as the year ends, assigning each one a goal, intention, or hope. Some versions suggest attaching each grape to a specific month, as an additional promise that the grape will be fulfilled in or by that month. They are not necessarily all concrete plans or under one’s control, and they don’t have to bear any particular relationship to one another. “Learn how to crochet,” “patch that hole in the wall,” “travel more,” “get my passport sorted out,” and “finish writing my book” are all valid grape goals. That flexibility is the true beauty and power of this tradition.
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A big part of why New Year’s resolutions so often fail is that they are big goals without corresponding plans, milestones, or timelines.
Some people can tackle a large task without separating it into smaller pieces or setting up checkpoints for themselves to see how close they are, but for most of us, that is way too big an ask. Most people face super-large goals that way with doubt—especially since we tend to register anything short of perfection as failure. Besides, it stings less not to try at all than to fail.
But by not sticking to this difficult formula, the 12 Grapes of Luck leaves room to think more broadly and abstractly about one’s vision for the future, and from there, about how to achieve it. It enables you to break down a big challenge, such as completing grad school or building a cabin, into monthly segments for better planning. Personally, it gives me space to express hopes for the future, such as traveling, that don’t need to be achieved, so much as set up by getting the rest of my life in order.
I’ve used my 12 grapes to complete my doctoral thesis.
I’ve also used them to complete gigantic personal projects, like my Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting. I’ve used this ritual as motivation for longer-term goals, like getting a job that pays me what I’m worth. I’ve also used it as a promise to myself to do everything from working on my mental health to learning how to take care of my curly hair.
Even now, I keep last year’s list handy to focus my efforts for the year to come—to make sure I am always advancing on my goals. For the past few months, I focused on getting my memorial tattoo for my grandfather, finding a job that will help me live better than I do right now, taking better care of my fish, learning as much about my people’s cooking as I can manage, getting my fishing license, filling up my rainy-day fund, and finally, deciding next year’s goals.
And now, I’m eating 12 more grapes.