Spanish people are festive by nature, perfectly capable of turning a family reunion into a weekend bacchanal. Nevertheless, the large amount of ceremonies and festivals that take place throughout the year in the country have less of a familial origin, and are more indebted, instead, to the rich diversity of economic and religious activities that gave rise to many different traditions. Therefore, whether you embark on them during winter, spring, summer or fall, your travels in Spain are sure to coincide with at least one of the many festivals in the country's jam-packed cultural calendar.
From the Sacred to the Pagan
Indeed, it is the religious celebrations which take precedence over any other form of celebration during most Spanish festivals. In particular, the marked cult for the Marian figure is often the perfect excuse to build an intricate set of festivities around a procession or series of processions where icons of the Virgin Mary (and on occasion other Catholic icons, such as patron saints, the Baby Jesus, etc.) are paraded through the streets of towns and villages with the purpose of both boasting the rich decoration, attire and craftsmanship of the icon itself, and embarking on a shared and popular expression of devotion for the figure.
Nevertheless, if it is true that religious processions and widespread fervor for Catholic festivities is the rule up and down the country, this does not preclude the possibility of more mundane, or even pagan, rites being celebrated in equal intensity, even if in fewer number. Indeed, many are the cases in which pagan and Catholic traditions have merged, through the cleverly opportunistic strategy of the Church, which often appropriated popular festivities enjoyed en masse by the thick of the population, giving them a pious connotation that simultaneously promoted the continuation of the established tradition and condemned the original context of the ceremony.
Don Carnal and Doña Cuaresma
Furthermore, there are specific (and forceful) occasions when pious or religious traditions are challenged by less transcendental aspirations in life. The most notorious instance of a proper head-to-head encounter between profane rites and sacred traditions is, of course, carnival. Officially condoned by the Church as a day of indulgence prior to the extreme privations of Lent, celebrations revolving around carnival soon reached far beyond permissible levels, both in terms of its extension and its nature. Within the Spanish festival calendar, this features as one of the most important events around.
Tracing back a millenary heritage, carnival has been traditionally celebrated in Spain since the Early Middle Ages, when the set-up provided the perfect excuse to make a proper racket within the context of the liturgy and even in the premises of the church. Thus, one of the earliest forms of dramatic performances in the history of Spanish drama (and literature) consists in the portrayal of the struggle between Don Carnal, whose character represents all the earthly longings for the pleasures of the flesh (and, therefore, of "this world") and Doña Cuaresma, usually portrayed as a frigid old woman who holds dearly the pious life that will grant her entrance to the "other world."
While modern forms of carnival celebrations might have little in common with the traditions of the Middle Ages, this remains a tremendously popular event with deep roots in a number of communities, where the picturesque occasion takes center stage as the focus of the holiday season. Such is the case, for instance, in Tenerife, where the world-famous carnival is perhaps only second to Brazil's. Similarly, the fanfare staged in Cádiz around this particular festivity is positively impressive, proving beyond any doubt the relevance of this long-standing festivity in modern Spanish culture.
Other Spanish Festivals
- What you didn't know about San Fermín
- Patron Saints of Malaga
- Crosses of May in Alicante
- Madrid and Semana Santa, the great unknown
- Barcelona Beer Festival
- Pamplona Film Festival
- La toma de los Reyes Católicos
Diametrically opposite carnival in the spectrum of Spanish festivals stands Easter, or Semana Santa. Holy to the core, this is the most important religious holiday in the entire calendar, well above Christmas. Commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ, Easter usually lasts as long as a week and is conceived as a period of meditation. Pondering is not, however, the dominant activity in any of the major celebrations that take place in Spain during the Holy Week, such as the Festival de Abril, in Sevilla, one of the most highly recommendable festivals in the world.
Needless to say, Spaniards don't really need as pious or as irreverent an excuse to organize a big bash as the resurrection of God or the rejection of all things holy, respectively. As a matter of fact, a large number of the most famous festivals in the country revolve around hugely symbolic, but largely mundane tasks. One of them involves the harvesting of wine grapes and the creation of vintage wines – an eminently commercial activity that, nevertheless, has and has had tremendous significance for a vast number of regions in Spain. Similarly, yearly events celebrate the figure of the bull in different forms throughout the country, often in violent or dangerous ways, reaffirming the emblematic status of the animal in Spanish culture.
From Sevilla's joyous Feria de Abril to the chaotic Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spanish festivals range from regional to national, from one day to entire weeks, from festive partying to solemn processions, and everything in between. These festivals provide visitors with a wonderful display of traditions and culture. What's more, our Enforex Spanish schools, located in Spain's most culture-packed cities, are open all year round; that way you can learn Spanish while experiencing incredible Spanish festivals!