Postcards from Abroad: The truth about Spanish fiestas

Hola everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything so I thought it should be about something fun and just a little spectacular… so the famous Spanish fiestas immediately sprang to mind!They’resomething that you think of immediately when someone mentions Spain, a great fun-loving nation, along with paella, sangría, siestas, flamenco and bullfighting I’m sure. But what makes them different from any normal party? Surely there’s no difference? If you think that, then you are so very sorely mistaken.

During my time in Spain I’ve had the chance to go to three major “fiestas patronales” or regional festivals. They are a completely different beast to the casual fiestas that happen every weekend in Spain; which for me involve singing Spanish karaoke and drinking “calimocho” (red wine and coke) until 7am but we’ll leave that story there. Anywhere, these “fiestas patronales” are all based in history and, to a greater or lesser extent, religion, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun and wild parties too. All of them meant I had days off work (winning!) and so I could make the most of these crazy cultural parties. Mostly they take place “por la calle” or in the street andrun over several days, if not a week which takes some serious party stamina! Obviously drinking is involved but the people taking part never seemed completely wasted so perhaps it’s more social and less binge-drinking.

So, the first fiesta that I went to was in October and is called “Fiestas del Pilar” or “Pilares” for short. It takes place in Zaragoza every year and celebrates the “Virgen del Pilar” or, literally translated, “The Lady of the Pillar” which is the symbol of the city.Every “pueblo” or village/town here seems to have their very own virginsor saints to celebrate at different times of the year leading to more long weekends and parties and I’m not complaining! For Pilares there are huge processions, concerts and performances all over the city. Also each part of Zaragoza has a “peña” which is like a community group that gets together for this event to dress up, play music and offer flowers to the Virgin. From these thousands of bouquets they construct a huge pyramid of flowers in the main square in honour of the Virgin. It is seriously impressive. This year it was between 10th and 18th October and I went for the opening weekend with a friend studying Erasmus at the university and her flatmates. Nothing could have prepared me for the noise, costumes and crowds which made the atmosphere electric. The whole city seemed to have taken to the streets to sing, dance and drink with friends. Bear in mind that this was barely two weeks after I’d arrived in Spain for my year abroad so it was all incredibly surprising and new to me!

Fiestas de Pilares

The second fiesta I attended is called “Medievales” and was in March. This is the biggest event of the year for the city ofTeruel, a lesser-known provincial capital. It is essentially the celebration of a Spanish version of the story of Romeo and Juliet; Diego and Isabel, who were locals of Teruel in the 13th century. The whole city goes back in time to the Middle Ages with stalls selling horns of mulled wine, barbecued meat, sweets, crafts and almost anything you can imagine taking over the cobbled streets. Not only that but people go all-in and dress up in full medieval costumes (think capes, pointy boots, headdresses, tights, flower garlands etc) which makes for an odd contrast when you see them walking around taking selfies on their mobiles or smoking cigarettes. Throughout the weekend you fight your way through the throngs of people to see the re-enactments of the tragic love story between Diego and Isabel which is put on in various squares and in the streets. We saw a full-on jousting tournament as well which was very Game of Thrones! I went with other Language Assistants and a friend from Leeds and felt like a time-travelling partier which was a unique feeling!

The third and final one is possibly the most internationally famous and occurs in Valencia annually around March time. It’s called “Fallas” or the festival of fire and, I can say definitely, is absolutely mental. People from each “barrio” or neighbourhood build elaborate statues to display in the streets for a week and then burn them on the final day of the festival which is a ceremony that goes on nearly all night called “La Cremà”. The only statue that isn’t burned is the winner of the competition for the best “falla” and is kept in a museum. These statues can be as tall as buildings or tiny and intricate. Some of the most impressive were not only massive but either colourful, humorous or themed. But it doesn’t stop there, there are also deafening gunpowder displays called “La Mascletà” which happen every day at 8am and 2pm, fireworks every night and firecrackers, sparklers and anything else that burns in an interesting way are sold to be let off in the street throughout the whole thing. I feel like this breached so many health and safety laws that it would be impossible in the UK but the Spanish are famous for their relaxed attitude and I’ve got to say it made for an incredible, if not absolutely liver-wrecking weekend. I think it’s also fair to say that I became a pyromaniac for the weekend setting off firecrackers (safely of course) and giggling with glee. There was almost no point in sleeping because of all of the noise all over the city which meant that on the final day my unifriend and I found ourselves getting home at 9 in the morning.

So I hope that you’ve been as surprised and intrigued by these Spanish fiestas as I have and that they have made you want to come to Spain not only to experience something completely new but also just to see if you can hack it! There it is, the challenge is set.


Ella Sagar

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