One of my favorite things about living in Madrid, Spain for a year and a half was that I had the chance to attend many of the country’s unique festivals. No matter what season of the year it is, there is always at least one city is celebrating something. Whether it be La Tomatina, a giant tomato fight that is held in the Valencian town of Buñol or El Colacho, a baby flinging festival (yes, you read that right) in Burgos, the country of Spain knows how to keep it’s citizens entertained. Those summer festivals don’t even compare to the ones held during the spring, however. As a predominantly catholic country, many of the Spain’s most important religious holidays fall around Easter. Due to their importance, these holidays are celebrated by what have become some of Spain’s largest and most legendary festivals. As it happens, springtime is also the best time weather wise to visit Spain, as the summer temperatures average around 90°F. Compared to the average of 30°F in the winter, it’s easy to see why the spring festivals are the best time to party.
Just days after the New Year, you can expect the many Christmas lights that hang beautifully from narrow streets in Spain to be taken down in preparation for the first spring festival, Carnaval. New Orleans has their own version here in the United States called Mardi Gras. However, ask any Spaniard and they’ll tell you they celebrate it better than anyone. In Spain, Carnaval lasts two weeks and is most largely celebrated in the cities of Cadiz and Tenerife. Carnaval started as a Roman tradition before it spread to the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages. It can be traced back to Lent, a forty day period before Easter, in which many people give up certain indulgences such as meat or alcohol. Before doing away with these gluttonous habits, people gathered to have one last feast where they would gorge themselves on all that they were giving up.
Over time, this celebration turned into a massive festival which now consists of parades, costumes, music, food and alcohol. All these things are components to a great party, something which the Spanish are known for doing so much that they need to take siestas during the middle of the day. So, it comes to no surprise that they have gotten in trouble for having a little too much fun partying in the past. Though police have made attempts to stop Carnaval due to the drinking in the streets that attracts thousands from across the globe, they have not had much success. Having been there myself during the second weekend of the two week long celebration, I can attest that perhaps the festivals do get a little out of hand, as the once calm and beautiful towns turn into what looks like a Sunday morning after a campus wide frat party, but as the Spanish say, “que ser á, ser á,” or “what will be, will be.”
Las Fallas de San Jos
This festival, occurring in Valencia, a region in the eastern coast of Spain, take the Venetian celebration to the streets for all to enjoy. During the year, communities all over the city come together and create fallas which are huge sculptures made of wood and Papier Mâché.
The fallas are usually satirical sculptures of people in the media, making political and at times, controversial statements. On the 15th of March the fallas are displayed around the city of Valenica and the party begins. Fireworks are set off twice a day and the already explosive nightlife gets even larger as concerts are held. This lasts for about four days until a final celebration where the fallas are burned in a beautiful finale.
Jerez Flamenco Festival
You can’t go to Spain without watching at least one Flamenco performance. Every March, the Jerez Flamenco Festival is held in the little Spanish town of Jerez, where the traditional Spanish dance was born. There you will see the world’s best Flamenco dancers perform in numerous venues, including the famous Villamarta Theatre. In addition to attending the concerts, you can also participate in Flamenco workshops and classes. While you’re there, make sure you make a stop to admire the gypsy quarter and large Moorish castle that resides in Jerez.
If dancing isn’t your thing and you have even the slightest interest in Catholic tradition, I recommend visiting Spain during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which is celebrated just before Easter. I had the luxury to celebrate Semana Santa last year in southern Spain, the area in which the processions are most prominent due to the large number of devout Catholics residing there. Although, I was in Spain during Semana Santa, I had been vacationing in Majorca, a Spanish Island that has a large German population, so any holy week processions were kept very low-key. As a result, I was unaware that when my family came over to visit me in Spain and explore the beautiful southern region during my holiday break, we would come across the largest procession in the country.
Upon arrival in Cadiz, we reluctantly squeezed our tiny rental car between hoards of people that swarmed the city’s narrow streets as they raced to get a spot to watch the processions. Once parked, we rolled our suitcases through thick crowds, only to discover that the door of our hotel room was blocked off by a row of chairs, already filled with people eating their bodegas and chatting with neighbors until the event began. Unsure of how to get into the hotel, we called management and about twenty minutes later, one lone worker came to let us into the seemingly empty hotel. After settling into our side by side rooms, we notice that we each had a balcony that overlooked the street. Overjoyed with our luck, we spent the rest of the night watching the pasos, floats with sculptures, go by our window. Each paso can weigh more than 5,000 kilograms. The men who dress up and carry these pasos, are known as Nazarenos, and considered very faithful members of the catholic brotherhood, for lifting these heavy floats is a painstaking task.
San Isidro Festival
Not to be forgotten, Spain’s capital, Madrid, hosts it’s own unique festival, known as the San Isidro Festival. This festival is in honor of the patron saint of Madrid and also marks the start of the capital’s bullfighting season, May 15th. In fact, it is the world’s largest bullfighting event and bring in bullfighters and bull breeders from many different countries. On the day of the festival many Madrileños dress in traditional costume and gather in Plaza Mayor where concerts are held and people dance to music. Though, you are sure to find concerts in many other plazas on this day, as well as, Casa de Campo-Madrid’s largest park.
But, bullfighting is a controversial sport and Michael Bonocore explores the subject while disccusing the Running of the Bulls, a festival that happens every summer in Pamplona, Spain.