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Twelve Grapes at Midnight

In Mexico City, for the most part, New Year’s Eve is a night for worship and family gatherings, not a night for wild public gatherings.

The congregation at Gethsemane Presbyterian Reformed Church in Mexico City celebrates New Year’s Eve with gentle traditions of remembrance spiced with hope. Families gather first for worship and then in their homes for midnight supper.

Four hundred people attended the worship service at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to recall the old year and usher in the new. The service is built around families who come forward to tell their stories. Interspersing songs, choir anthems, and prayers, Efren Haro, one of the elders, gently encourages members to talk about the impact of the past year on them. People look forward to this opportunity to praise God through their stories. Although Mexico does not have a designated Thanksgiving Day, this is very much a Thanksgiving service.

Telling Our Stories

Some families simply read a Scripture passage and tell of its impact on their life. Others tell stories of how God was present with family members through illness, accident, or death. Serapio, with tears in his eyes, tells how God brought him through a crisis in his employment. Laura, a university student, relates the story of her friend’s decision to follow Christ. Elder Efren prays soft words of grace and blessing for them and then the choir sings “¡Cuán grande es El!” (“How Great Thou Art”).

Continuing the Celebration

This year, after the service, we joined the extended family of the Britos for their family supper following worship. Family members gathered from various parts of Mexico and Mexico City and from as far away as Sioux Center, Iowa, where one of the daughters attends Dordt College.

As midnight approaches, the whole family gathers around a large table filled with food. Spicy casseroles, special breads, stacks of tortillas, and soft drinks fill plates and glasses after Moises says grace. The meal is not hurried. It is filled with recollections and laughter as both women and men bustle more and more food onto the table. A birthday celebration erupts when people remember that Erica, the Dordt student, is also celebrating her birthday today. One of the brothers tells a long story about his daughter’s skills in mathematics. She revels in her father’s pride.

Then postres (desserts) are spread. Sidra is poured into wineglasses, and at midnight glasses are raised and clinked in toasts to the New Year. Immediately after, each member of the family receives a napkin in which are wrapped twelve grapes, one for each month of the new year. As each grape is eaten, family members make a wish for each month of the year. Then the whole family rises and members go round the room hugging each other with cheek kisses, every member hugging every other, accompanying their hugs with words of thanks and good wishes for the new year.