“Happy New Year!” Thousands shouted at midnight at Puerta del Sol. The grapes have returned this Friday night to the Madrid square, where 7,000 people have gathered – 60% fewer attendees in the square , which traditionally welcomed around 20,000 people – from different parts of the world, despite the coronavirus. The bells in Madrid have brought together thousands of people from Europe, Latin America and Spain to welcome 2022. Seniors, young people and children have gathered to say goodbye to the year in the capital, which is the only major city in Spain that has maintained the celebration of the chimes this New Year’s Eve.
The countdown began and the attendees drank their 12 grapes. Some have come from the other side of the globe to do it this year in Puerta del Sol. This is the case of Fiorella Espinoza, 21, who has arrived from Costa Rica. After a trip of almost a month throughout Europe with his partner, Madrid is his last stop on the continent. “We come to celebrate the new year for the first time here!”, She says excitedly. “Well, what a time to come from so far!”, Says the woman behind her, Mari Carmen Villasclaras, 51, who has traveled with her husband and daughter from Malaga.
Despite the outbreak of infections, with a cumulative incidence of 2,426 cases per 100,000 inhabitants due to the omicron variant, which already exceeds 90% of infections according to data from the Ministry of Health, Madrid has continued with its plans to give the welcome to the year 2022. The most desired wish of those attending this great celebration is that the pandemic comes to an end. “And that next year we will finally return to normalcy,” predicts Olga Devesa, 26.
Letizia Silva (43 years old) has arrived from Colombia with her two youngest children: “If everyone wears the mask, that’s fine,” she says. Although, some take it off to sip a drink, smoke, or take photos. Even with the capacity restriction and the mandatory use of the mask, the festive stamp of the square this Friday recovered its essence in a measured way. For some it has been impossible to comply with the safety distance during the celebration. The hugs and kisses have been inevitable.
The most fanatical have settled in front of the clock of yesteryear to immortalize the moment by becoming selfies with glasses and shiny hats. Sheyla Barrientos came with her husband and three young children. The family has moved this weekend to the capital especially for the grapes. “Finally we succeeded!” says the mother, although she regrets the more than two hours of queuing they have made to enter. In fact, many of those who tried to gain a foothold from six in the afternoon have stayed at the gates of the square.
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Pamela Martínez, 30, traveled from Mexico with four more friends and has come well prepared to enjoy New Year’s Eve. In his backpack he carries sandwiches, potatoes and grapes. The young woman points to a plastic canteen in which she kept the tequila she was drinking tonight. In the queue he has made new friends with whom he has ended up spending the whole night. His new party companions are from Andalusia and this is his first year at the bells of Madrid. One of them is Inmaculada Martín. The Malaga woman confesses that she is not afraid of catching coronavirus tonight: “I was more afraid that they would cancel it, but there was luck.” Her friend agrees with her: “You have to dare now to lead a normal life, but carefully.”
The first to enter at 10 pm amid shouts and jumps euphorically remembered Mecano’s song. “At the door of the Sun as the year that was”, they sang with their cubata in hand. Wearing a glow-in-the-dark glitter headband with the number 2022, 24-year-old Azahara Luna is coming with two friends from Girona. The three of them have been waiting in line for almost an hour and they assure that they have not moved from the site. “We decided yesterday that we were going to come because in Catalonia there are many restrictions,” says the young woman. In front of them, Laia Conde, 21, agrees. The young woman, who is from Barcelona, explains that it was a spontaneous decision: “You can’t do anything there because of the restrictions. For this reason, we are encouraged to celebrate the new year here ”.
Madrid does not have a curfew at one in the morning or limitations on family gatherings as in 2020, when the number of new infections on New Year’s Eve was 3,942. This year there are more than 21,360. The difference now is the vaccination that, until now, has contained the number of admitted, serious cases in ICUs and deaths.
At eight o’clock in the afternoon the square was already being vacated, while people waited in the streets surrounding the square. On the main street was Otman El Mounaoui, 39, who has traveled with his wife from Belgium to attend the chimes in the capital for the first time.
The assistants have passed through the police filters before reaching the gates of kilometer zero, where the police have looked at their bags to prevent the entry of dangerous elements. The Civil Protection teams have counted the capacity that has been completed in one hour. 10 Samur vehicles with 37 toilets have also been arranged, among officials and volunteers.
Around the space, of almost 10,000 square meters, 300 agents have been distributed between the Municipal Police and the National Police, a hundred more than last year, when the square was closed to avoid crowds. “It is a large space, security can be guaranteed and it is outdoors”, justified his decision Enrique Ruiz Escudero, Minister of Health of Madrid, a day before the bells at the press conference.
Tonight a sound and light show has been projected on the façade of the Royal Post Office, just before the chimes. At eleven o’clock the show began, with the projection of some of the messages left by the more than 60,000 people who have passed these days through the Forest of Desires, located in the Casa de Postas. These have been alternated with different karaoke songs. The assistants sang in unison Who cares from Alaska, playing from the speakers in the plaza. A song by Miguel Bosé and Raphael has not been missing either.
Finally, a video mapping to welcome the year 2022 and, after ringing the 12 chimes, a fireworks display has been seen with the flag of the Community of Madrid and that of Spain. After the celebration and after the eviction of the attendees, the glasses and plastic bags have filled the plaza floor. Cleaning operators have started their day.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.