Most of the festivals in Spain have religious beginnings, although sometimes those religious elements seem very obscure today. What is certain, though, is that you could travel through this Fiesta-crazy country and find a different festival just about every day of the year. The Spanish calendar is chock full of some of the most fabulous festivals in Europe.
In January, the Christmas festivities more or less reach their peak on Kings’ Day, on the 6th of the month. Most towns will have parades with the three kings throwing sweets and small gifts to the children on the evening of the 5th January. The one at Málaga is particularly impressive, with hundreds of floats on the streets. As with most Spanish festivals, food and drink play an important part – at Three Kings it’s the time of a ring-shaped pastry called the Rosca de Reyes.
February is generally the time of Carnival in the weeks leading up to Lent. Although every town has its own distinctive carnival rituals, the celebrations in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Cádiz, Vilanova and Sitges are especially sensational. Because of the weather in February, the two Canary Island carnivals are possibly most attractive to foreign visitors. Both of these finish with wonderful parades culminating in the ritual ‘burning of the sardine’ on the main beaches, followed by the customary ear-splitting firework displays.
Easter is especially important in Spain and the Semana Santa, or Holy Week, processions can be moving occasions throughout the country. Andalucia has some of the most spectacular, especially of course in Seville. A wonderful city to visit at any time of the year, Seville is memorable at Easter, but also has impressive festivals in February, at the Tapas Fair, and in the flamenco-filled April Fair.
March is also the time of the famous Fallas Festival in Valencia, celebrating the feast of the patron saint of carpenters. The gigantic papier maché figures are spectacular enough but their ceremonial burning and the accompanying pyrotechnic mayhem are totally unforgettable.
Much more refined, although just as colourful, are the Cruces de Mayo celebrations that consist of many elaborately constructed flower crosses displayed in streets and courtyards. Córdoba, with arguably one of Spain’s most stunning buildings, the Mezquita, and its elegant gardens and patios, is breathtakingly beautiful at this time.
During the summer months, festivals in Spain become even more idiosyncratic. Everyone knows of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona as part of San Fermin and of La Tomatina at Bunyol near Valencia with its terrifying tomato fight. Perhaps more bizarre, though, are the Baby Jumping Festival in Castrillo de Murcia in which men disguised as the devil jump over the babies born in the town during the previous twelve months, and the Goose Festival in Lequeiti where men try to hang on to a dead goose! And this is not even mentioning the Festival of the Near Death Experience in the Galician town of Las Nieves or the amazingly precarious human towers constructed by the groups of Catalan castellers at various town festivals.
Autumn brings with it many local festivals dedicated to wine and, on October 12th, Día de la Hispanidad, to commemorate Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Which all more or less takes you back to the run up to Christmas and the New Year.
Although all of these festivals are completely Spanish in nature, the country also has its share of large-scale international festivals as well. Barcelona hosts the annual Sonar Festival in mid-June and can boast such prestigious affairs as the Festival of the Guitar, BAM, an International Jazz Festival and Primavera Sound. One of Europe’s favourite music festivals, at the beach resort of Benicàssim, takes place every July, although the 2009 event was partly disrupted by a nearby scrub fire.
Festivals in Spain, then, are a year-long celebration of all the things that make this vibrant country’s culture so richly diverse and completely unique.