Spain is definitely the land of spectacular and interesting festivals. All over Spain all year round there are numerous festivals and celebrations in many villages, towns and cities, marking everything from religious dates to solstices, food and traditions.
The Spanish really know how to celebrate and seem to have a knack for making a fiesta out of bizarre traditions. There’s a snail festival in Lleida and a baby-jumping festival in the village of Castrillo de Murcia, to name just a couple of many of Spain’s celebratory gems.
On a larger scale, Spain really does take the art of celebration seriously. There are so many to choose from, but here are 5 of our favourite must-visit festivals in Spain for 2017 – provided by Mike James, an author working with Panorama.es, Marbella’s largest and longest-running real estate agent.
- Las Fallas de Valencia
Valencia 15th-19th March
The Fallas of Valencia is perhaps one of the most spectacular fiestas you will come across in Spain. Hundreds of giant dolls depicting political figures, movies stars and Toreadors are installed on the city’s streets and then burned in spectacular bonfires. A lot of work is put into building the statues over the previous year, which are real works of art. Since 2016, this festival has been designated status as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
It really is a competition of art and the giant models are incredible. The celebration’s origins go back to the wooden lamps of carpenters that were used to light the workshops in winter. They were burned in the street on the eve of San José’s Day. Originally, the lamps were given a human appearance by decorating them with old clothes, but in the mid-19th century, they converted them into decorative dolls. The artistic creations have grown from this idea.
On the 15th March, work goes on all night to install more than 700 figures in the city’s streets and squares. Many of the enormous statues reach up to 20 metres in height. On the night of the 19th, all but one of the models are burnt amid a fascinating spectacle of fire, music and fireworks. Chosen by popular vote, one model is then spared – for display in the collection at the Fallas museum.
- Festival of the Crosses (Cruces de Mayo)
Cordoba – 4 days at the end of April to beginning of May (usually begins on the nearest Sunday to May 1st)
The May festival of crosses (Cruces de Mayo) is celebrated in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America and Spain. In Spain, the festival is well celebrated, especially in Andalucia, with Cordoba in particular renowned for its impressive and colourful display of around eighty different crosses.
The tradition of decorating crosses dates back to the 18th Century but is founded upon the story of St Helen from the fourth century AD. St Helen’s son Constantine dreamed of a cross that would help him win a battle he was losing. He ordered troops to build a cross, which he carried into battle and won. The family converted to Christianity and his mother St Helen travelled to Jerusalem to search for Jesus’s cross, which she found to heal the sick. Hence the worshipping of the cross to this day.
Since 1953 in Cordoba there has been a competition between Catholic brotherhoods and neighbourhood associations for the best-decorated cross. Temporary bars are set up in some of the neighbourhoods where locals congregate in the evenings to celebrate in true Spanish style with drinks, tapas and spontaneous flamenco dancing. The best neighbourhoods to head for in Cordoba are San Basilio, Santa Marina and San Augustin.
The festival is con-incidentally followed by ‘the battle of flowers’ where flowers, plants, pots and manila shawls are put up in courtyards for an annual contest.
- Bonfires of San Juan (Hogueras de San Juan)
Alicante 20th-29th June
The festival of San Juan marks the longest day of the year and celebrates the official coming of summer (the summer solstice). The region of Alicante holds one of the biggest celebrations of San Juan. The festival pays tribute to fire and runs from 20th June to 24th June. It’s a spectacular display of colour, music and fireworks. The fiesta continues from 25th June to 29th June with a fireworks competition on Postiguet beach, as well as a medieval market and a range of shows in the historic town centre.
In Alicante, large wooden and papiermaché figures are displayed in the city’s main squares. The figures are burnt on the night of San Juan (24th June) at midnight, following a firework display released from the castle. There are bonfires all over the city, and firefighters shower the crowds with water (known as ‘banya’). Several days of fiestas follow with marquees set up around the town for drinking and dancing. From 20th to 24th June at 2 pm every day, there are deafening fireworks displays in Plaza Luceros.
- The Running of the Bulls (the fiestas of San Fermin)
Pamplona 6th-14th July
The world-famous running of the bulls in Pamplona is an annual festival that has been a part of this region’s history since the 13th century. The Bull Run (Encierro) is the event at the heart of this spectacle. It’s thought the run was born from getting the bulls outside of the city to the bullring.
San Fermin is the patron saint of Navarra and the fiesta begins with a chant from the runners a few metres from the corral where the bulls are being held. “A San Fermin pedimos, por ser nuestro patron, nos guie en el encierro dandonos su bendicion.” (We ask San Fermin, being our patron saint, to guide us in the Bull Run and give us his blessing).
Two rockets are launched, then the bulls are released from their corral to charge behind the runners for 825 metres along the cobbled streets of the old town. The only way to watch in safety is from a balcony. A third rocket is fired to signal all the bulls have reached the bullring.
- La Tomatina Tomato Fight
Bunol, near Valencia 30th August (held on the last Wednesday of August each year)
La Tomatina is the world’s biggest food fight. Once attracting up to 50,000 people to the town, which has an average population of around 9,000, officials are now limiting the event with tickets to a maximum of 20,000.
No-one is completely certain how the even originated, but one theory is that disgruntled townspeople attacked city councilmen during a town celebration in 1945. Whatever the origin, it’s a tradition that has grown ever since, with the annual food fight attracting people from all over the world. More than one hundred metric tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets.