Bizarre Uruguay celebrations: Nostalgia Night

Could Uruguay be the only country in the world with a state-sanctioned celebration of “golden oldies”? Bring on the Bee Gees!
By Karen A Higgs
Last updated on August 24, 2023

Is there any other country in the world with a state-sanctioned celebration of musical “golden oldies”?

In 2004, the Uruguayan government passed a decree to officially denominate the eve of August 24 as “noche de la nostalgia” or Nostalgia Night. The nationwide Uruguay celebrations where golden oldies—many in English—are the soundtrack, even attract visitors from nearby Argentina and Brazil.

The idea came about over forty years ago. A 20-year-old radio DJ who had grown up listening to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel and the like, thanks to older brothers and sisters, was heading up a show called Old Hits.

Bizarre Uruguay celebrations: Nostalgia Night
Nostalgia Night at Plaza Independencia

To promote the show the radio station decided to hold a party and only play golden oldies. The problem was no one would rent them a venue on a weekend. Their only option was to choose the eve of a public holiday. So they grabbed the calendar and found the closest public holiday was Uruguay’s Declaration of Independence on August 25 1978. It was ideal. Few people needed to go to work the next day and could party till dawn.

The event was a huge success. So much so that the next year they decided to repeat Nostalgia Night and so on for the next few years. And so the celebration was born.

What’s playing on Nostalgia Night?

It’s a commemoration of the music of people’s youth so what’s playing depends on who’s partying. All generations tend to bop to music from the 60s and 70s. Younger generations also choose the 90s and the early 2000s for playlists. There’s always an opportunity to pull on a 60s wig, Elton John style glasses or an 80s leotard.

Most parties start off with golden oldies in English that you’ll be more than familiar with—Queen, The Bee Gees, even Barry Manilow. As the night goes on, expect Uruguayan and Argentine rock (my favourite, Uruguay’s answer to The Beatles) and cumbia.

Private Nostalgia Night party in Colonia del Sacramento, 2022. Thanks for sharing, Fefo and friends!

How can I attend?

Most people choose to go out to an organised party. Most clubs and bars will offer one and will advertise it on social media (especially instagram). Ask a few days before at your favourite local bar if they’ve got something on, or have a place to recommend.

Also check the newspapers a few weeks in advance of August 24. Google “noche de la nostalgia” and include the location you are at and the year.

It’s thought that more people go out on Nostalgia Night in Uruguay than any other night of the year. Nowadays there are even anti-nostalgia parties.

2022 was a trip as it was the first time that parties returned to their pre-pandemic numbers.

Most parties begin around 10 pm and will finish at five or six in the morning. Entry costs vary but start from about 750 pesos (apx 20 USD).

Nostalgia night street party. Plaza Independencia in downtown Montevideo 2022.

Why are Uruguayans so nostalgic?

Uruguayans are a rather self-critical lot and regularly characterise themselves as boring and even “grey”. They’re not, but perhaps a consequence of being a small, moderate nation wedged between exuberant Brazil and ever passionate Argentina.

So maybe it’s to kick against their own self-stereotyping. At least one night a year, a swath of the population of all ages goes out to party in different locations with the same goal—dance to the golden oldies of their era.

Nostalgia Night creator, Pablo Lecueder, said in an interview “I don’t know if there is a switch in Uruguayans, that they need a night dedicated to looking back. Someone had to invent it, because it seems it was already there in their DNA.”

History too plays a role.  Nostalgia Night began when Uruguay was in the throes of a military dictatorship (1973-1985). Sylvana Cabrera Nahson was seventeen when the first Nostalgia Night took place in 1978 and her parents wouldn’t let her attend. But she has vivid memories of the celebrations from 1979 onwards. “The dictatorship was a terrible time,” she said. “The military could subject you to a spot-check whenever they wanted. There were curfews, aggressive raids. And suddenly, in the middle of this cruel reality, this event, which was pure recreation, appeared. The contrast was so intense.”

That sounds like more than enough motivation for a nation to “celebrate nostalgia” and party intensely every year—on the night before Independence Day.

Cover photo and video credits: Magdalena Mailand




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