Gabriela Bustelo

Why Try To Change Me Now?

Practically all Spanish homes tune in to watch one of these shows, with family and friends holding individual bowls of grapes that have to be eaten exactly as the clock ding-dongs the old year away.

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Why Try To Change Me Now?
Gabriela Bustelo

Gabriela Bustelo

Writer. Journalist. Translator. Now based in Madrid after a year stationed in Kuala Lumpur, Montevideo and Asunción.

Practically all Spanish homes tune in to watch one of these shows, with family and friends holding individual bowls of grapes that have to be eaten exactly as the clock ding-dongs the old year away.

Like one of those love songs where everything’s upside-down and who cares, the Spanish town of Bérchules –in beautiful Andalusia, a hundred kilometers from Granada– celebrates New Year’s Eve on the first day of August. It all began in 1995, when the mountain village of 800 dwellers had yet another electricity shortage that made it impossible to commemorate the traditional “Old Year” festivities –or “Fiesta de Año Viejo”– on December 31st.

The main activity that 46 million Spaniards practice on New Year’s Eve is eating twelve grapes while listening to an old clock chime the last 12 seconds of the year. Main TV channels –public and private– have programs dedicated to this, competing with local dolled-up celebrities to grab the audience’s attention. Practically all Spanish homes tune in to watch one of these shows, with family and friends holding individual bowls of grapes that have to be eaten exactly as the clock ding-dongs the old year away. Failing to do this is considered dreadfully unlucky for the incoming season.

But nobody in Bérchules has had that problem for twenty years now, ever since neighbor Miguel Toro suggested celebrating the fiesta in August. This year they’ve had 9,000 visitors –ten times their population– who duly ate 2,500 kilograms of grapes under a shower of white Styrofoam snow. As usual, the press from Madrid covered the event, which even The Wall Street Journal featured last year. Two decades ago nobody seemed to know where the small Andalusian village was on the map, but now everybody’s talking about Bérchules. One can’t help but wonder if they chant that old Sinatra song: “I’ve got some habits even I can’t explain. Could start for the corner and turn up in Spain. But… why try to change me now?”

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