You bring the wishes, we supply the raisins

“We supply the raisins”, the email read. No explanation. Well phew, we won’t need to pack those, we thought.

For New Year’s we booked a small, rustic inn at the foot of Monsaraz in Portugal. Shortly thereafter, we received their offer to join the party they were having for, what turned out to be, mostly hotel guests. When we accepted, that’s what the email said in return: “we supply the raisins”.

So what do confused Americanos do when puzzled by a cryptic message such as this? Why hit the Google of course. Mystery solved. 12 raisins per person, one for each wish for each month of the new year.

So that’s where we found ourselves, wearing our green underwear (for health, as the Google told us of this tradition. White for peace, blue for luck, red for love, green for health, etc.) amongst a table of Portuguese at New Years dinner listening to live Spanish Flamenco music bidding Tchao to 2019 and Bom Ano to 2020. Nervously (not really) awaiting our first reading of wishes as the clock strikes each chime at midnight.

The evening began slowly. Very slowly. It was an all hands on deck affair for the small staff of the hotel. The meat and cheese plates were set out at seven, we arrived fashionably late around 7:45 to a nearly full room and waited at the bar (which no one in Portugal sits at, so it’s always free for us) sipping Alentejo wine and trying not to fill up on snacks in anticipation of a five course meal including cod au gratin, black pork and suckling pig with Caldo Verde (the national soup) at 1am (for the record, some of these plates never did appear, but we didn’t care, when in Rome or Monsaraz, as the case may be).

Around 10:00pm the band kicked in and the candles were lit. Still no invite to sit, with lots of watch looking (not just by us) we all continued to wait patiently. No one got upset, we were in this together and the staff were clearly scrambling to get it all done just right. Finally, at 10:30 we were all invited to sit for dinner. Relieved, we were nearly guaranteed to remain awake until soup time.

Google translate at the ready and phrase book in hand we sat, but the loveliness of the Portuguese people at our table prevented any embarrassment as they make it all too easy on you and spoke English to us all night (one day we will learn, but not being forced to do so is both great and makes us lazy, a challenge for yet another day in this new decade).

And then came the raisins. In a pile on a plate to be shared by the table. Grab and count we did and at the proper hour we began our wishing.

Perhaps we should have wished to come back here again next year. Bom Ano e Obrigado.

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