Spanish Festivals and Fiestas are a celebration of what it means to be a Spaniard to be a part of and to share a common National and Local History and Culture…so with that said let’s explore some of the many celebrations that take place throughout this colorful country.
The year of Spanish festivals and fiestas celebration starts off in January with La Fiesta de la Reconquista (Festival of the Conquest) in Granada to celebrate the taking back of the city from the Moors in 1492 with a number of parades outside the historic city hall. On January 5th in most cities around Spain the procession of the Three Kings takes place to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in the afternoon before Epiphany day, bringing presents for children. On January 17th Dia de San Antonio Abad patron of the animals is celebrated throughout the Peninsula followed by the feast of St. Fabian and St. Sebastian on January 20th when the whole town of San Sebastian dresses up in celebration. On January 29th Fiesta de San Valero patron saint of the city of Zaragoza where locals and visitors share pieces of a giant Roscon (a sweet pastry made out of flour, sugar, milk, eggs).
Spanish Festivals in February start off with Carnival being celebrated throughout Spain, Madrid’s Carnival was revived in 1976 after being prohibited under Franco’s Regime. It might not be one of the bigger ones but it still a lot of fun, I remember going with one of my many cousins to many of the celebrations especially the one that ends on Ash Wednesday with the traditional Burial of la Sardina (sardine) Parade where all participants are dressed in black and carry a cardboard sardine in a coffin to be buried at La Fuente de los Pajaritos symbolizing the beginning of Lent. If you are looking to be a part of the Carnaval celebrations the biggest ones take place in Barcelona, Cadiz, Jerez and Sitges. Throughout the month of February you can attend The Seville Tapas Fair, the city of Sevilla devotes itself to catering to tapas lovers providing a perfect opportunity for visitors to sample some authentic Spanish Cuisine. Towards the end of the month the Jerez Flamenco Festival takes place starting on February 25th and ending on March 12th. Here thousands of flamenco students gather each year to attend workshops and classes, a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn from the masters. Even if you are not lucky enough to get a student invitation if you love flamenco it is still worth making the journey to view some of the most famous bailaores of our time perform at the Teatro Villamarta.
Spain has fiestas and festivals throughout the month on March 15th we have Las Fallas in Valencia a week long succession of parades and other activities leading to its culmination on March 19th, the Night of Fire, with the burning of the giant papier mache figures to chase away the demons of winter.
April has some of the biggest celebrations, Semana Santa or Holy Week the week before Easter, lasting 10 days and finishing on Domingo de la Ressurreccion (Easter Sunday) most impressive in Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Cuenca, Jerez and Zamora. Feria de Abril in Sevilla takes place this year from April 3rd to May 8th, a colorful celebration that includes Parades of Horses in which local girls dressed up in flamenco costumes are paraded in beautiful carriages, performances of flamenco, bullfighting and prancing on the streets. We cannot forget the Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christian) celebrations that take place in various cities along the Spanish coast most famous is Alcoy, Alicante where the celebrations take place between the 22nd and 24th of April reliving the battle between Moors and Christians that took place in the area many centuries ago. Ending the month on the 27th of April we have the celebration of La Virgen de Monserrat in Cataluña declared patron saint of Cataluña by Pope Leo XIII.
In early May takes place the Feria del Queso in Trujillo where you can savor cheeses not only from the area but the world. In mid May takes place the Spanish Festival La Feria del Caballo in Jerez an event visited by thousands which highlights the city’s equestrian heritage. The Fair also includes a large number of bullfighting and flamenco shows. During this month there is a low key event that takes places in Cordoba called Concursos de los Patios or Popular Patios Competition held during the second or sometimes the third week of May residents of the old quarter of the city open their private family courtyards to visitors. In the meantime Madrid celebrates de fiesta de San Isidro marking the start of the bullfighting season, a week-long celebration with parades, music, dancing food fairs and bullfights. At the end of May beginning of June takes place the Spanish Festival la Romeria del Rocio in the region of Andalucia a pilgrimage either on foot or carriage to the shrine of the Virgen del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew) in Huelva.
In early June we find the Christian Holiday of Corpus Christi, meaning the body of Christ, with some of the largest processions taking place in Barcelona, Valencia, Toledo, Malaga, Sevilla and Granada. We cannot forget the Sunday after Corpus Christi where an unusual Spanish Festival celebration takes place in Castrillo De Murcia, El Colacho, better known as the Baby Jumping Festival. Babies are laid out on mattresses and grown men dressed as devils jump over the infants for the purpose of cleansing them of all evil doings. In Huelva we have La Romeria del Rocio. The arrival of the summer solstice is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks in places like the feast de Las Hogueras de San Juan en Alicante, a smaller version of the Fallas de Valencia, Las Noches de San Juan or the Night of St. John in Zaragoza where bonfires blaze and fireworks are lit while families and friends gather on the streets to celebrate, and Barcelona’s Noches de San Juan or La Nit de Sant Joan where thousands gather on the beach to light bonfires and celebrate until dawn. If you like to participate in a unique celebration head to Haro, La Rioja for the the Spanish Festival celebration that takes place on June 29th when locals and tourist alike prepare themselves for the wine fight of their lives. The combat goes on for several hours until around noon when the crowd makes it way to the town center for a sort of mini running of the bulls.
As we know July’s famous Spanish Festival celebration takes place in Pamplona with the running of the bulls (Fiesta de San Fermin) which always begins on the 7th of July and runs for a week. Cordoba hosts EL Festival de la Guitarra de Cordoba or Guitar Festival of Cordoba from the 6th to the 25th of July an International event which features many masters of the guitar. La Fiesta del Carmen takes place along coastal towns such as Nerja and Fuengirola on July 16th to commemorate la Virgen del Carmen patron of sailor’s and fisherman. Towards the end of July the 24th and 25th takes place La Fiesta de Santiago or St. James Feast in Santiago de Compostela where the faithful gather to see the great Botafumeiro or huge incense burner in the cathedral representing the King’s Offering to the Apostle and see the incredible fireworks display at the Plaza of Obradoiro. If you love jazz you might consider attending the San Sebastian Jazz Festival or Jazzaldia at the end of July 21st through the 25th performances take place daily at the Old Town’s Plaza de La Trinidad.
Spanish Festivals in August begin at Vitoria’s week-long celebration of the Festival de La Virgen Blanca (White Virgin) starts on August 4th and runs through the 9th culminating with a human style puppet that soars above the crowd in the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca. There is also La Fiesta de Agua celebrating San Roque in the afternoon hoses, hydrants and buckets are brought it for a major water fight. You can also attend the Strong Men Competition and sample lots of Basque food during Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia celebration that runs for nine days starting on the 20th of the month. Let’s not forget the famous La Tomatina Festival in Bunol, Valencia on August 31st where you will have a throwing tomato fight with very little rules… don’t fret about getting ammunition as the ripe fruit is brought in by truck loads just for the occasion.
September Spanish Festivals start with La Fiesta de La Vendimia (Jerez Sherry Festival) on the first Saturday of the month in Jerez celebrating the Sherry grape harvest, including the blessing and ceremonial crushing of a basket of grapes. Meanwhile on the second Sunday of the month the Fiesta del Arroz (Rice Festival) de Valencia commences with its international paella competition. All the while in Barcelona the celebration de La Merce, its main annual festival, takes place featuring human towers some as high as 10 stories, fireworks, processions and dance performances. Then on September 21st the San Sebastian Film Festival begins an international renowned event.
October starts with a surfing competition in the Basque Coast the ASP World Tour Billabong Pro. October 12th is the day of La Hispanidad, this day there are celebrations taking place throughout the Peninsula commemorating the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Also in October the celebration de La Virgen del Pilar which lasts for seven days, among the events that take place are bullfights, fireworks and concerts. Foodies flock to Galicia’s O Grove Fiesta de Exaltacion del Marisco Seafood Festival to taste the delicious Galician shellfish. If you are not into shellfish you can opt to attend the Saffron Rose Festival in Consuegra to celebrate the harvesting of the flower.
The 1st day of November is Dia de Todos Los Santos or All Saints Day celebrated everywhere with one of the biggest celebrations taking place in Cadiz. In Cantabria the Festival de Orujo takes place with a lot of eating and drinking taking place, locals dress up in their traditional costumes and there is music and dancing. Towards the end of the month and in anticipation of the Christmas Holidays the Christmas Market is setup in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid where over 100 booths are set up selling anywhere from religious artifacts to bizarre costumes to celebrate el Dia de Los Santos Inocentes on December 28th.
Christmas in Spain is big, on December 21st the Hogueras (bonfires) de Granada and Jaen take place where attendees jump through bonfires to protect themselves from illness. The Christmas lottery draw takes place on December 22nd a tradition originating all the way back to 1812. Christmas is a very family oriented holiday in Spain starting with the Nochebuena (New Night) on December 24th, I remember those evenings like they were yesterday our whole family (a big one 25+) would get together and celebrate by eating, drinking and being together. December 28th is El dia de los Santos Inocentes or the equivalent of April’s Fools. December ends with a huge celebration Noche Vieja (Old Night) and its tradition of eating the 12 grapes of good luck. As the New Year approaches families gather in front of the TV with their grapes and at 12 seconds to midnight the countdown begins, each time the clock in La Puerta del Sol in Madrid rings a new second every Spaniard eats a great for a total of 12 grapes, a tradition believed to bring you good luck in the New Year!