Spain loves its festivals. From the smallest villages to the very biggest cities, at least a few days a year are dedicated to a good old fiesta filled with feasts, parades and celebrations. These go to the heart of Spanish culture, and it is hard to beat the experience of participating in one of them, as a local or a tourist.
A typical Spanish festival will involve a curious blend of religious and pagan rituals, with a large dose of food, drink, merrymaking and several elements of the bizarre.
One of the most well-known festivals in Spain is San Fermín – The Running of the Bulls – in Pamplona during July. Bulls are let loose through sections of the town’s streets whilst revellers, all dressed in red and white, daringly dance and dodge their way around them. Given the thousands of people that participate and escape unhurt in the event, the odds are that you won’t get injured. However, 2013′s event saw one man gored in his leg and groin, another in his arm and another in his stomach, so severe accidents do happen!
Another famous festival is Semana Santa (Holy Week), which takes place in April throughout Andalucía but is most renowned in Seville, the region’s capital. Each night, relatively sombre processions of life-sized figurines, representing the story of Christ, are carried through the streets by costaleros, all hiding under the holy floats. Flanking the floats are various church groups or ‘brotherhoods’ wearing their traditional capriote uniform, which, to the unknowing eye, may seem a tad frightening. In the second half of the month Feria is held in Seville, which is a much jollier and more colourful affair involving six nights of dancing, dressing up, eating and drinking.
Easter Monday in Salamanca is spent celebrating, picnicking and relaxing by the river, a tradition that stemmed from the 16th century when, during the 40-day lent period, prostitutes of Salamanca would be confined to the other side of the city’s Rio Tormes and then allowed back over the river on Lunes de Aguas – Easter Monday – when they were welcomed with huge parties. It’s just the picnic bit these days.
Catalan Christmas festivities involve several intriguing traditions, the caganer, small defecating figurines found amongst nativity plays and the Caga Tió, a log which is traditionally given human features, cared for by the children in the lead up to Christmas and then beaten to encourage it to excrete as many Christmas presents as possible. Yes, really.
Valencia city’s wild spring festival, Las Fallas, is one in which vast papier-mâché puppets are lovingly crafted by the different neighbourhoods, then paraded and finally set alight. Throughout the five days and five nights of partying, fireworks are set off throughout the streets as part of the celebrations.
In February of each year, the city of Cadiz hosts Carnaval, an exuberant celebration fuelled with drink and colourful, original and witty costumes. Many of the people who attend dress up together as large groups, or chirigotas as they are known in Spain, who practice various chants and songs – often politically motivated – for weeks before Carnaval takes place. The celebration actually lasts two weeks but the most popular time to go is the opening night. See this post for a detailed step-by-step guide on how to survive Cadiz Carnaval.
Barcelona’s biggest party is the Festes de la Marce, held every September, and involves parades of firework spitting demons and dancing. Also in September is Bienal de Flamenco, a huge flamenco festival held every other year in Seville, and the Fiesta de San Mateo, a La Rioja harvest festival where hundreds flock to Logroño to watch the grape-crushing ceremonies and drink wine.
One of Spain’s more bizarre festivals is the extremely messy La Tomatina, held in Buñol in August, where the streets are filled with people pelting tomatoes at each other.
Festivals are very busy periods in Spain so if there are any that you’d like to attend then booking accommodation well in advance is recommended. Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to stick to a budget hostel or splurge on a luxury spa hotel, which offer excellent amenities for families such as children’s pools, tennis courts, pony riding, bike hire, sailing, children’s mini-clubs, family activity programmes, daycare and children’s menus.
About the Author: Divyanshu Sharma has been traveling around the world and sharing his experiences with fellow travellers through blogs and articles. He is also a food aficionado and loves to highlight the luxurious aspects associated with traveling.