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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

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand Tails.com.

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham

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