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Every year on the penultimate Thursday of the academic term, thousands upon thousands of students from all corners of Spain descend on the small Castilian city of Salamanca for the annual Nochevieja Universitaria – translated as University New Year. This impressive celebration was inaugurated in 1999, when students wanted to be able to celebrate New Year with their university friends, before going home for the Christmas holidays. Since then it’s become a highlight in the university calendar, not just in Salamanca, but across the country. People come in busloads from as far as Seville just to be part of this magical night, before heading home early next morning (literally) after a whole night of partying.
A couple of days ago I was lucky to be able to experience Nochevieja first hand, going with some friends from work to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. We all decided to meet at 10 pm, thinking that the Plaza Mayor – where the ‘countdown’ to the New Year takes place – would already be jammed with people. We were a little surprised to find that at this point it was only half full, if that. Regardless, the atmosphere was extremely jovial, with a raised platform and DJ underneath the famous reloj (clock), playing all our favorite tunes – with Avicii’s Wake Me Up receiving a screaming reception.
Nevertheless, the idea of standing there for the next two hours was not so appealing, so we went to a nearby bar and had a few drinks and some dancing. We stayed there for about an hour, before heading back to the Plaza Mayor for the strike at midnight. On our way there, we bumped into another friend from work who had unfortunately lost her phone, which reminded us all to keep an eye on our belongings, especially since by this point the Plaza Mayor was jam packed. We pushed our way into the center of the square, nestled between a group of Spanish students, and some sweet Americans. There was still about half an hour left before the “big moment”, but it flew by with more club classics from the rather excitable DJ.
It is a Spanish New Year’s tradition to eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each time the clock chimes ding dong. On our way into the Plaza Mayor we had each been handed a little box of twelve grapes (for free!) for us to reenact the tradition at “New Year” – or, in our case, when Thursday became Friday… With about five minutes to go, the DJ stopped doing his thing, and was replaced by a spectacle of lights and drumming music. The Plaza Mayor was changing different colors – red and green – and the façade with the clock had a visual show projected onto it. The main theme of this production was a series of dates, but none of us knew what the dates stood for, and my research has so far proved fruitless. Maybe it was key dates in Salamanca’s history, or Spain’s, or of the night’s sponsor, Brugal? Anyway, the point is it was really cool, and you can view it on YouTube – Nochevieja Universitaria 2013.
The final segment of this 3D mapping show was a 10-second countdown to midnight, at the completion of which we all hurriedly ate our grapes. The task was significantly harder than we’d expected; eventually I found myself with about four grapes in my mouth at once because the clock was dinging faster than I was eating! And then that was it… once midnight had passed it was the end of Plaza Mayor’s turn to host the thirty thousand students, who then went out into the large number of bars and clubs that hug the center of the city – but only after a ten-minute struggle to leave the Plaza Mayor, a difficult task with so many people going in so many opposite directions. We found ourselves at a bar very near to the Plaza Mayor which was playing typical Spanish club songs. I didn’t recognize any of them, but happily danced away for the next few hours.
When we left the club – slightly deafened from having spent all our time next to the speakers – we thought about going to another, but the Englishness in us had work the next morning firmly at the back of our mind, and the thought of partying until 6 am Spanish-style didn’t appeal. But, we were glad we’d experienced one of the highlights of the academic year in Spain, and it will definitely be a great memory for years to come.