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LIFE IN SPAIN

Why this Spanish village celebrates New Year’s Eve in August

As if they'd had a premonition of what was to come 28 years in the future, this Andalusian village has not had to cancel New Year celebrations because they have their countdown and grape-eating in early August. Here's the fascinating reason why.

Bérchules New Year's in August
Bérchules held its first estival New Year's party on August 6th 1994. Stock photo: Mabel Flores/Flickr

As the rest of Spain and most of the world make their final preparations for restricted (or cancelled) New Years plans, there is one village in rural Andalucia that won’t be.

And they never do, in fact. Not in December, anyway.

Why not? Because they celebrate the New Year in August.

Hidden away high in the Alpujarras region of Andalusia in Granada province, Bérchules has, for the last 28 years, celebrated New Year’s in August.

The story goes back to New Year’s Eve 1993, when party preparations were well underway and the town awaited ‘94.

But sometime that evening, just a few hours before midnight, bad weather caused a power cut that left the village in the dark as locals  prepared for the new year countdown.

Bérchues, which has a population of just over 700 people, on any day other than August 6th. Photo: Erik Korsten/Flickr

Bérchules eventually held its New Year’s party on August 6th 1994, hoping to recover not only the festive spirit but some of the lost hospitality earnings, and the move has become a tradition since.

In recent years, the strange custom has attracted visitors: it is estimated as many as 10,000 now attend the August New Year’s bash, in a pueblo of around 700.

Much of the year is spent planning for the summer celebration: preparations for the party begin as early as January, and as August is historically a month full of fiestas in Spain, in a town so small hosting a party so big with just one road in and one road out, it’s important they get everything right. 

Despite taking place in August, during the notoriously hot Andalusian summer, the people of Bérchules still have all the typical Christmas traditions of the holiday season.

Polverones, turrones, and mantecados are all enjoyed, as there are 3,000kg of them to supply the high summer demand in Bérchules.

They even have the Three Wise Men on horseback, and grapes are sold a dozen a piece for those wishing to stick with Spain’s New Year tradition, while a small shop sells Santa hats and reindeer horns. 

Bérchules’ August New Year celebrations are so popular, and such a draw for outsiders, that the Andalusian government has recognised the tradition as an official Festival of Tourism Interest.

However this year, with Covid-19 infections rising and restrictions reintroduced across the country, the age-old Spanish tradition of bunching up in the central square to eat twelve grapes as the town hall bells chime at midnight was banned. Locals had to do it at home this year.

There was also a socially-distanced, masked parade complete with a brass band and the Three Wise Men.

So it seems that whether it’s in August or December, big congregations of people outdoors as is so common in Spain’s local festivals, will never quite be what it was until Covid-19 is well and truly a thing of the past. Here’s to hoping that happens in 2022!

Article by Conor Faulkner, who coincidently was born on the exact same day as Bérchules experienced the power cut that led to its estival New Year’s tradition. 

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LIFE IN SPAIN

What childcare options are available over the summer in Spain?

Kids in Spain get around three months of holiday over the summer, but finding childcare options during this time can be challenging for parents, especially if they have to work. So what is available?

What childcare options are available over the summer in Spain?

Kids in Spain get to enjoy a ten to 12-week summer vacation, starting towards the end of June and lasting until around the second week in September. This is one of the longest summer holidays in Europe.

In the UK, kids get around half of this time with around five or six weeks, while in France they get around eight weeks and in Germany around six weeks.

Unless you are a teacher or are self-employed, most salaried workers in Spain, according to the Workers’ Statue, can only take up to two-weeks vacation at a time, meaning that parents are often stuck with what to do with the kids for the rest of the summer.

If you’re in this situation, what are your options for summer childcare and how affordable is it?

Summer school camps

Most regular schools in Spain offer campamentos de verano or summer camps. This means that your kids can carry on going to their normal school, even after the term ends. But instead of doing their lessons, they’ll get to do fun daily activities, crafts and games, as well as a variety of day trips.

If your children’s school doesn’t offer this option, then there’s always the possibility of signing up to a campamento at another nearby school.

Remember, you’ll need to enrol your kids in advance to make sure they’re able to get a spot.

The price for these is around €70 to €100 per week if your child is going all day, and this typically includes lunch. Be aware that these school summer camps are usually not available during the whole of the summer, so you may need to still organise childcare for the month of August or a couple of weeks in August, if you’re taking your vacation then too.

The advantage of these is that your kids will often get to be with their friends and will know the surroundings already, however it may not really feel like much of a holiday or a break from school for them, if they’re in the same environment. 

Specialised or themed summer camps

Another option, rather than going to a summer camp at a school, is a themed summer camp, based on your kids’ hobbies or the activities they love. There are many different summer camps across the country, focused on everything from sports and languages to music or even theatre.

For example, in Barcelona, the city zoo offers a summer camp, as does FC Barcelona, where kids can learn football from the pros all day.

In Valencia, the Bioparc offers a summer camp, as do a couple of the local outdoor swimming pools.

Try searching online for campamento de verano (summer camp) plus the name of the town or city where you will be, there are options across almost all of Spain.

As these are private companies, not sponsored by the state schools, they typically cost considerably more than the school summer camps.

Expect to pay anywhere upwards from €200 per week, and double this for popular summer camps. The general rule is that the better the facilities, staff and transport, the more expensive it will be. 

Temporary nanny or Au-pair

If summer camps or schools are not an option, or you’d prefer for your kids to get more attention or be around the house, hiring a summer nanny or au-pair is also a good choice.

There are many young people who want summer jobs in order to earn a bit of extra money and many career nannies who may be stuck without a job with their regular family in the summer.

This could be a good chance for your kids to learn another language, by hiring a native speaker from a different country. Many Spanish families hire native English speakers to look after their kids in the summer, so you could hire a Spanish nanny if your kids need to brush up on their language skills or even a French or Italian nanny, if you want them to learn new language skills.

According to Au-Pair agency Au-Pairs.com, the salary of an Au Pair in Spain is €70 per week if you live in the countryside, and €80 per week if you live in the city, which means between €280 and €320 euros per month, if they live in and more if they live out.  In cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, expect to pay a nanny around €10 per hour.

Ask family members for help

Many Spaniards will rely on family members such as grandparents to help look after their kids during the summer holidays.

If you don’t have family members in Spain then during the summer, you may be able to entice some family members to come over and help look after your kids or your children might enjoy a holiday back in your home country, if family members are able to take them in.

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