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In Chile, staying alive is an excuse to party

Thousands of elderly Chileans have been celebrating surviving wintery August.

SANTIAGO, Chile — They survived August, and they’re celebrating. Thousands of senior citizens all over the country have been partying to mark the passing of the worst winter month in Chile, and the fact that they’re still around.

It’s almost a tradition during Chile’s cold and damp winter: elderly adults will greet each other with: “So, how are you surviving August?”, and respond with: “I’m passing so far!”

What started out as a joke among veteran August survivors turned into a very serious idea. It all began a decade ago in Chillan, a city 220 miles south of the capital, when a group of friends — all over 60 — decided that changing the month on their wall calendar was as good excuse as any to throw a party. They decided that every Sept. 1, they would meet in Chillan’s main plaza to celebrate the end of August and the beginning of spring. And so they did.

Now these friends call themselves “The August Boys.” And that solemn vow they made on a cold Chillan afternoon has since then turned into the most massive event for senior citizens in town. The municipal government has taken the reins of the festivities, organizing a party for thousands. When cathedral bells and fire station sirens sound at midday, they hug and rejoice as if it were New Year’s Eve. Then comes the wine and chicha (a drink made of fermented grapes), a military band plays, and there is dancing, laughing and remembering. Their example spread quickly to other cities, mainly in the south, where winters are harsher. By now, it is not just groups of friends at a local bar holding up their glasses to say good-bye to winter, but massive celebrations.

This year there were also parties in Concepcion, 280 miles south of Santiago, where senior citizens presented dance and music shows at a local theater. Nearby, in Talcahuano, hundreds of elderly residents danced and celebrated at a school gym. In Puerto Varas, 327 miles further south, August survivors took to the streets to celebrate with warm wine and local pastries.

In the port city of Valparaiso, northwest of Santiago, veteran journalists and their friends organized a sort of “New Years Party,” with live music and dancing through midnight. In Osorno, the “Club of August Survivors” organized a dinner with dancing and the exchange of gifts. Presents went from Viagra to woolen underwear.

In Santiago, it was President Michelle Bachelet who opened the party at Estacion Mapocho, an old railway terminal converted into cultural center. Under the theme, “We all passed August, for the right to have a good time,” about 2,000 elderly adults, most of whom participate in government senior citizen programs, filled one of its main salons to hear her speak, and later, of course, dance salsa, cumbia and cueca, Chile’s traditional dance.