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

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 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.

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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