My top Spanish festivals
Pregón Fiestas del Pilar by Zaragoza Turismo
A great thing to do on your year abroad is to travel around the country that you’re in, and more often than not you will have a friend/someone from your university who you can visit or travel with. Spain’s days off and puentes (equivalent to the British bank holiday) are normally thanks to a religious festival. Each region, town and village has a patron saint, and they all celebrate in different ways.
Fiestas Del Pilar, ZaragozaEl Pilar gives her name to the basilica in Zaragoza, the capital of Aragón. The city has the week off work to celebrate the festivities, plus the weekends either side of it. Held in the second week of October, there are huge numbers of activities; concerts, bullfights, etc. But undoubtedly the most impressive thing is La Oferta - The Offering, where the flowers given to the Virgin are piled up next to the basilica in a huge pyramid. And again, like many Spanish holidays, Fiestas del Pilar are well-known for their nightlife. The Zaragoza World Expo site just across the river is converted into a mini-festival site with music tents, bars and food stalls (all connected to the centre by regular buses at all hours through the night) and thousands of people wearing dungarees. This is one of the less talked about festivals in Spain, but definitely worth a visit.
Las Fallas, ValenciaNow this is one of the better known festivals in Spain, and quite rightly so. Again a week-long celebration; this one is all about fireworks, flowers and lights. The heart of the celebrations happen in the middle of March, but since the beginning of the month there is La Mesclata, a lunchtime fireworks display in the main square, so noisy it makes the buildings shake. You’re also supposed to have your mouth open during the 20 minute show in order to not burst your eardrums.
The Monday to celebrate San José (March 19) is the big finale, but from the Wednesday of the week before things start hotting up. During the daytime there are parades around the city with orchestras and bands, followed by men, women and children in beautifully adorned outfits carrying flowers that are again offered to the Virgin. Then there are the Ninots, huge models designed and erected by each neighbourhood, which they start planning for after the events of the previous year. There is a massive amount of effort, money and pride that goes in to each of these, and 2 winners are chosen each year: 1 from the children’s competition, the other from the main competition. What do they do with the rest? Burn them!
But the night time entertainment is the most memorable of the whole week. There are midnight firework shows next to the river, which are absolutely incredible; so much so that the Valencian government didn’t have fireworks for New Year’s Eve in order to save up for Las Fallas. The lights that are put up through the streets beat any Christmas lights you’ve seen in your life. The photo on the left is of a street illuminated with lights that are made to look like they are lining houses, and with a smaller (but more brightly coloured) Eiffel Tower at the bottom. All modelled beautifully by Chloe, a yearlong Valencian resident and massive fan of Las Fallas. Fire crackers and fireworks are easily and very cheaply bought during this week. And if all that doesn’t whet your appetite, here’s a sample of the fireworks displays. (Spoiler alert: the best bit’s at the end)
Semana SantaEveryone thinks that Spain is a very religious country. Wrong. The number of people who attend church is ever diminishing, and if you ever happen to walk past a Catholic mass in session you will see that the majority of the congregation are of an older generation. Saying that, while it is true that the majority of all these fiestas are due to religious reasons, normally to celebrate Saints' Days, they might not be so religious, they do love a good party.
Semana Santa has less of the ‘party atmosphere’ than other Spanish festivals have, but it is one of the more goose-pimpling kind. For Catholics, Easter is the biggest event in their calendar, and here it is celebrated in style. Seville's celebrations are the most famous, but the basics are pretty standard across the country. The main activity is parading; some people hold candles, some are hooded and others are barefoot with chains around their ankles. Some take place during the day, others at night. More often than not though, there are a lot of cloaks and the women wear black with mantilla combs in their hair and with beautiful black lace fans. Then there are the statues. These things weigh tons, literally, and are religious statues of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on an ornate base made of solid gold with support beams running under them (which are resting on the shoulders of the men below.) Depending on their weight, they are carried or pulled through the streets.
Each parade is different, and this is where it really depends on where you are in the country. For instance, the Virgin Mary being carried through a square in Madrid one evening was being supported by 32 women, instead of the usual male carriers. In some towns people shout ‘GUAPO!’ (HANDSOME!) up to Jesus, in other places the statues pass through sobbing onlookers who are in deathly silence. But you never have to go far to find this party atmosphere again; the video below is from Murcia last year, parading to the well-known Brazilian hit “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” (Translation: “Ah When I Get My Hands On You.” Surely not the most appropriate soundtrack to carrying a statue of Jesus...)