Spain is a country full of traditions, some ancestral and others more modern, but all of them have as a common denominator the Spaniards and their desire to enjoy customs and traditions, whether cultural, social, or religious. Each region, city, town, and even hamlet has a tradition that is intimately related to the festivity of a saint or the patron saint of the town. Usually, the festivities are dated in the Spanish calendar in the spring and summer months, which is when people can best enjoy outdoor activities.
If we ask tourists what traditions they know about Spain surely they will answer: fiesta, siesta, bulls and Semana Santa will be the most mentioned. So, we will delve into this folklore representative of Spanish culture.
Although most Spanish popular festivals have a religious connotation, Easter is the most important and oldest religious tradition in Spain, dating back to the Late Middle Ages (between the ninth and tenth centuries). This Christian holiday commemorates the final days of Jesus Christ on earth, from the moment he arrived in Jerusalem where he was proclaimed Savior until he was tried, sentenced to death, buried, and resurrected. It is also known as the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Each region of Spain has an important tradition on Easter and that is worth highlighting and knowing. Although there are some celebrations that are the most visited by national and international tourists, among which the Semana Santa in Murcia, Cartagena, Salamanca, Zamora, Seville, Granada, and stand out.
Easter celebration begins on Domingo de Ramos (the feast is celebrated on the Sunday before Easter and the date is movable), with the procession of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and ends on Easter Sunday with the procession of Cristo Resucitado.
Throughout the week there are different processions, which usually start around six in the afternoon and end at midnight. The processions consist of several cofradías (Cofradía is a religious association that venerates an image, for example, the Christ of the Good Death). Each cofradía usually has two thrones also known as “pasos”: in one goes the Christ and in another goes the Virgin. The thrones are carried by the costaleros or members of the cofradía[i], also known as cofrades.
Without wishing to make mistakes, Seville is the place where Semana Santa is lived with more devotion, many people fill its streets every year during the processions of “La Madrugá”. Where the images of La Virgen de la Esperanza Macarena, el Señor de Sevilla and El Gran Poder are the most outstanding of the six cofradías of “la Madrugá”.
Thousands of tourists visit Spain at Easter because, in addition to the religious connotation, it is a cultural festival where you can learn a little more about Spanish. Thousands of tourists come every year to know this tradition for the great fervor it provokes in the participants, the striking costumes such as the famous “capitores”[ii] used by cofrades who procession and the typical gastronomy that can only be enjoyed in these festivities.
To the surprise of many who read this article, the traditional siesta is not of Spanish, in fact, it is a tradition that comes from Italy, and more specifically from the Romans. The word siesta comes from the Latin ‘sixth’, which refers to the sixth hour of the day, in which the Romans used to rest and sleep. This time was noon, the hottest time.
One of the stereotypes about Spaniards is related to the siesta since it is a tradition that consists of sleeping between 15-30 minutes after lunch. In the villages and small cities, this is still applied especially during summertime and is also related to the closure of shops between 14 and 16 hours.
Like many Spanish traditions, fairs date back several centuries and are related to trade and the exchange of goods, which in ancient times were animals and cereals. Once or two times a year, cattle, and horse breeders, as well as farmers, met in the capital of their provinces for a trade that lasted several days. When closing deals, they toasted with wine and listened to local artists. With the passage of time, this annual event began to get greater prominence and the religious part was also integrated. Thus, the participants celebrated commercial businesses and enjoyed socio-cultural activities, always related to the typical dances of the area.
Over the years the fairs of Spain have become one of the most important cultural and social activities of the different regions, even many takes place on a public holiday.
The fairs give an excellent opportunity for tourists to know first-hand the different traditions of an area or region since in the fairs all events combine as economic, social, cultural, religious, and recreational activities. In most fairs, there are activities for all tastes. From children’s attractions to concerts, games, painting exhibitions, tents with discos, traditional dance contests, horse carriage rides, clothing, and food markets, and much more. In addition, visitors will have one of the best opportunities to taste the typical dishes of each area.
La Feria de Albacete is one of the oldest in Spain, dating from 1375, and has its own fairgrounds of more than three hundred years old. This fair that receives more than two million visitors every year was declared of International Tourist Interest in 2008, and in 2009 won the Telecinco (TV channel) contest for the Best Fair in Spain. It is held annually from September 7 to 17 in honor of the Virgen de los Llanos, saint of the city.
While among the best-known popular fairs are the Sanfermines in Pamplona, the Fallas of Valencia, the April Fair of Seville, the Tomatina of Buñol, and the Carnival of Tenerife.
Pamplona receives more than half a million visitors during the Sanferimenes, a traditional fair where the popular running of the bulls takes place and the American writer Ernest Hemingway immortalized in his novel ‘Fiesta’ in 1926. From July 7 to 14 the running of the bulls is held, which consists of a race of people along a route of 849 meters in front of six brave bulls that will be fought in the afternoon in the bullfight. This race lasts between two and four minutes and always appears on the international news.
The Fallas of Valencia is held from March 15 to 19 with a tradition rooted in the city and different towns of the Valencian Community. This festival is also a tourist attraction of the region and in 2016 UNESCO inscribed it on its ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’. The Fallas are true works of art, the sculptures are exhibited in different streets of Valencia and are made of expanded polystyrene. These sculptures stand for various aspects of local and national news and are a form of vindication before the different social, cultural, or political problems. A peculiarity of this festivity is that visitors and a specialized jury choose the winning fallas (sculptures), which are saved from being burned and transported to the Museo de Las Fallas.
The Seville Fair, also known as La Feria de Abril is one of the most popular in Andalusia and takes place one or two weeks after Easter. Sevillians and visitors gather in the Royal Fairgrounds, where the streets with tents are decorated with lanterns. In those same streets stroll riders and horse carriages, as well as beautiful women adorned with the typical costumes of “sevillanas”. Almost a million people visit this fair. In La Feria de Abril there are traditional dances, flamenco singing, and typical foods.
The Valencian Community has another well-known fair internationally for appearing in the news worldwide due to its particularity. La Tomatina is celebrated in the town of Buñol yearly on the last Wednesday of August. The tomato war has been a particularly important tradition in Buñol since 1944. The origin of this tradition is not known for sure, although one theory says that farmers attacked the government adviser with tomatoes for the tax hike. The tomato battle is held along several streets and in the town square where 145,000 kilos of tomato are distributed. Due to the peculiarity of this party has also had a presence in the movies internationally both in Bollywood and Hollywood. Also, Disney created in 2015 a Disney Shorts entitled ‘Al rojo vivo’ and dedicated to La Tomatina.
The Carnival of Tenerife is another of the best-known festivals in Spain and is considered the second most popular carnival in the world after Rio de Janeiro. It is a pagan festival prior to Christianity. This carnival is characterized by its colorful costumes that year after year delight the attendees for the splendid work, dedication, and effort that both designers and cultural associations put on the customs. Also, this carnival is known for its famous Drag Queen gala, a fantasy of illusion that surprises everyone.
This ancestral tradition very representative of Spanish culture has an equal number of followers as detractors. El toro de Lidia is an animal that is bred specifically for bullfights. Corrida is a festival in which brave bulls are fought, on foot or on horseback (rejoneo), in an enclosed area called ‘Plaza de toros’. This deep-rooted tradition in the Iberian Peninsula dates to the Bronze Age when royalty had to prove their bravery in front of the bull. The first writings on bullfighting in Spain are from 1455.
This tradition deeply rooted in Spanish culture has captivated great international personalities. One of them was Ava Gardner who even moved to live in Madrid. The Hollywood actress was in love with Spain and “los toros”, but she was not the only one, Orson Welles was also a huge fan of bulls and Spain, he even did three films in our country, as well as Ernest Hemingway, Anthony Quinn, Gary Cooper, and Sophia Loren, to name a few. Likewise, the world-renowned actress of “Basic Instinct” Sharon Stone commented that bulls are “the poetry” of Spain.
Nowadays and due to the pressure of animal groups defenders, bullfights are prohibited in several regions of Spain such as Catalonia and the Canary Islands, although in regions such as Andalusia and Castilla-La Mancha the tradition strongly continues every year where important bullfighting festivals are celebrated.
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Karin O. Silva