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Bangor Daily News

Latinos Mark New Year With Grapes, Tango


3 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

BANGOR - Santiago Rave held up a cell phone with a digital clock that read 11:58 p.m.

The fact that it didn't display the seconds didn't matter to the 50 or so people gathered at his parents' restaurant, Thistle's, to greet 2005. Celebrants decided that precise timekeeping wasn't necessary, and the countdown to midnight began in Spanish.

"Cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno."

"Feliz ano nuevo!" the partygoers shouted.

Champagne glasses were raised, toasts proclaimed, hugs and kisses shared before the revelers got down to the serious business of the evening - devouring 12 grapes, one for each month, to ensure good luck.

This was New Year's Eve, Latin style.

Alejandro and Maria Rave opened their Exchange Street restaurant for the fifth year in a row to members of the Hispanic community living in the Bangor region.

There were no formal invitations to the potluck, but guests began arriving and greeting each other in Spanish around 10:30 p.m.

"It's uplifting," Nellie Evans of Hampden said of the party. "You eat your food, share your music and share your culture with your community."

Evans, whose family roots are in Puerto Rico, has been attending the event for about three years with her husband, Vern.

The big difference between North American New Year's Eve parties and the celebration in Latin America is the music and the dancing, according to Vern Evans, who traces his roots to the American South.

"Growing up as little kids, we learn to dance," Maria Baeza of Newburgh said Friday night. "You dance with your mother. You dance with your grandmother. You dance with your uncles."

The restaurant is better suited than a private home for the party, according to Santiago Rave, who manages his parents' restaurant, because there is room to dance, and dancing is an essential element of the celebration. He manned the CD player much of the evening.

Baeza and Felix Hernandez of Cherryfield were the first to get their feet and hips in motion with a salsa-style dance familiar to Latino partygoers. Both trace their roots to Puerto Rico via New York.

Hernandez started dancing 17 years ago at the age of 5 and began participating in dance contests when his mother moved his family Down East nine years ago. Before he and Baeza started a rumba line, Hernanadez said that he had recently started competing again in the Boston area.

Eating grapes for good luck at the stroke of midnight is a Spanish tradition the Raves have adopted. Other Hispanic customs to bring good fortune in the New Year include wearing colored underwear - red for good luck, yellow to bring work, green for wealth and white for good health.

"If you want to travel, you should pack a suitcase and run around the block with it at midnight," said Maria Rave, a native of Colombia.

Her husband, Alejandro Rave, was born and raised in Argentina. Before their marriage, he worked as a professional singer and dancer, performing with touring companies throughout South and Central America.

It is the couple's skill on the dance floor that sparked chants of "Tango. Tango. Tango." about 30 minutes into 2005. The Raves' first tango of the year, done in the Argentinean style, is a tradition as essential as eating grapes, according to Santiago Rave.

With a red carnation stuck in the pocket of his plaid sports shirt, Alejandro Rave embraced his wife of 31 years. The two lovingly smiled at each other as their feet defied the law of gravity and gracefully executed the intricate steps of the tango.

Andres Rave of Boston has watched his parents dance on many occasions, but the New Year's Eve tango is always special, he said early Saturday. He said the celebration exemplifies the values many Latin parents instill in their children - family community and friendship.

"The party provides a connection to faraway countries on the holiday," he said. "My parents have always wanted to provide an outlet where people could come and enjoy their culture."

After the party ended about 2 a.m. Saturday, the Raves drove to Boston, as they do every year, where they were scheduled to fly to Colombia for their annual vacation.

More than 100 relatives were expected to turn out at the airport in Medellin and greet them with exuberant shouts of "Feliz ano nuevo" and "Tango. Tango. Tango."

Thistle's Restaurant is scheduled to reopen Friday, Jan. 14. Tuesday Tango nights are scheduled to begin in February.

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