Spain is well known for it’s fiestas and fiestas. Over 15 000 fiestas and festivals are held in Spanish villages and towns throughout the year. Many are religious, celebrating local saints, some are regional and others are national events such as Semana Santa (Easter), Corpus Christi and Christmas.
1) Dia de Los Reyes Magos – January 6th
El Dia de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day) is an important festival in Spain. Celebrated on the 6th January, it is of course a festival marking the three kings that brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The day is nearly as important in Spanish culture as Christmas itself, especially for children; as it is on the Dia de los Reyes that presents are exchanged in Spain. January 6th is a National holiday and many shops are closed.
The day before the Dia de Los Reyes, just after darkness has fallen, the Kings (Reyes Magos) arrive in each town and city to mark the start of the festivities. Unlike the three Kings from the Bible, who arrived on camel, in Spain they use alternative methods. In Madrid they usually arrive by horse, in Valencia they arrive by boat and in smaller towns they often arrive by train.
Nevertheless, the principle is the same: the three kings come bearing gifts and their arrival is greeted by thousands of excited children. From their arrival point, the Kings form a procession through the city, often up to several kilometres. They throw sweets and other small gifts to the expectant crowd and are accompanied by music and other performing acts.
The celebrations continue well into the evening; although many children go to bed early -looking forward to the presents that they will receive in the morning. Many neighbourhoods will have large street markets and parties that extend into the early hours with live music providing the entertainment.
The following day, El Dia de Los Reyes is a quieter occasion, with people meeting up with their families to exchange presents. The day is celebrated by the special cake – Roscon – a sweet bread filled covered with glace fruits and sugar. Inside the Roscon there is usually a small toy hidden which will bring luck during the coming year to whoever finds it.
2) La Candelaria, Dia de la Candelaria – February 2nd
The Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, known in English as Candlemas is a popular holiday celebrated by Christians in honor of the Virgin of Candelaria on February 2 each year.
La Candelaria is celebrated in towns and villages of Madrid with a variety of festivities. Clowns dressed as farmers push around fake young bulls made of wood with two horns while the “bullfighters” dressed in colored silk pants with lassos and paper flowers chase perform mock bullfights around the town. In the evening, in the town center, the makeshift bull is “killed” and the town celebrates by drinking sangria, symbolizing the blood of the bull.
In a town called Pobra de Trives, Ourense, they celebrate the Festa dos Chourizos (Sausage Festival) in honor of the Candlemas. It is said that the bonfires where they roast the homemade sausages symbolize huge candles.
In Almonacid del Marquesado (Cuenca), the Candlemas is celebrated with a parade of hundreds of participants dressed in colorful devil outfits.
Other towns celebrate La Candelaria more traditionally with parades and religious processions. For example, in Malaga a young girl leads a procession as they reenact the arrival of Jesus at the Temple. In Menasalbas (Toledo) riders on horseback and 22 others carry torches through town (again, reflecting the ever repeating theme of light).
3) Festivity of Santa Águeda – February 4th – 5th
February 5 is the festivity of St. Agatha, in memory of this young Sicilian martyr to whom the people of Navarra and the Basque Country have special devotion. On the previous afternoon, the eve of the festivity, a dozen choirs walk the streets of Pamplona singing popular songs in Basque about the life of St. Agatha. At the same time, they hit the ground marking the rhythm of the song with its Makilas (a kind of sticks with candles).
4) Entroido – Carnival – 9th – 14th February
Better known as Entroido, Carnival is one of the best loved festivals in Galicia and across Spain, and a great time to experience a very different and colourful side of Spain. Carnival looks to mock authority and indulge before Lent; but it’s origins are much older than that and are linked to celebrations marking the arrival of Spring.
This most indulgent of festivals is widely celebrated in villages, towns and cities across Galicia. Some of the oldest and most unique and spectacular Carnival festivals take place in the provinces of A Coruna, Ourense, and Lugo. Each of these areas has its own traditional characters and traditions, such as the epic flour and ant-throwing battle in Laza; as well as its outlandish hand-painted masks and outfits complete with noisy cow bells.
However, if you can’t make it to Ourense, most towns and cities including Santiago de Compostela will host festivals and fancy dress parades. If you are close to Galicia between the 9th and the 14th of February, you should do your best to catch one of these organised parades. Information can be found at entroido.galiciadigital.com.
5) Semana Santa – Holy Week – March 25th – 31st
Semana Santa or Holy Week is one of the most special times to be on the Camino de Santiago. This week long celebration fills the streets of towns, and villages across Spain with processions. It is a tradition made famous in Spain as the population turns out to celebrate the Passion of Christ.
Leading the processions are religious brotherhoods known as hermandades, or cofradías. They carry large floats known as pasos which depict different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary.
Perhaps the most striking of elements are the penitential robes worn by these nazarenos. They look like a tunic and cloak and have a hood with a conical tip called a capirote. The colors are quite dramatic and vary between processions. The whole appearance is a throwback to medieval times when the penitents could carry out their penance without being recognized.
Sometimes these nazarenos carry candles or crosses and may also walk barefoot or shackled in chains as a penance. Marching bands with loud, slow and rhythmic drumming usually join the processions.
Processions can be seen on the Camino Frances in León, Pamplona and Santiago de Compostela, on the Camino Ingles at Ferrol and on the Camino del Norte at Bilbao. One of the most famous processions takes place in León and lasts a staggering 9 hours (see the final stages above).
Some major differences between Spanish regions are noticeable in this event: Holy Week sees its most glamorous celebrations in the region of Andalusia, particularly in Málaga and Seville, while those of Castile and Leon see the more sombre and solemn processions, typified by Semana Santa at Zamora and Valladolid.
The week of processions, whether you are religious or not, are an amazing sight.