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Splendour, gaiety and the imagination of the nation as a whole are the basic features of the Spanish fiesta. The years festive highlights turn the public into active participants and passive spectators who are nevertheless aware of being both things at once.
Fiestas, a phenomenon that gives expression to a peculiarly Spanish vitality, take place almost uninterruptedly in different places and at different times of the year, so that the traveller will always find an occasion to witness one of these magical, spectacular happenings that alter the daily routine of Spanish society.
In February, masks, clowns, gigantes (giant pasteboard figures), grotesques and devils are the central characters in Spains first festivity of the year. The carnival in Lanz (Navarre) with its mythological figures (Ziripot and Zaldico) speaks of a thousand-year-old tradition, as does the fiesta in Villanueva de la Vera (Cáceres) with the burning of the effigy of Pero-Palo. The carnival assumes an air of satire and buffoonery in Cadiz, with its charangas (bands of street musicians) and explodes into a spectacle of dance and fireworks in Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which rival each other in and beauty.
Fire and gunpowder take centre stage in March. Valencia celebrates its traditional fallas (from the Latin "facula" or "fax", meaning torch) during the week leading up to St. Joseph's Day, bringing to the fore all the ingenuity, hullabaloo and passion which this universally famous celebration implies, in the climactic burning of the ninots, the satirical papier mâché effigies.
Holy Week is the religious feast par excellence, in which tradition is timeless and unshakeable. The Easter processions of the cofradías (guilds or brotherhoods) and the sublime beauty of the floats or pasos assume special relevance in places like Seville, Valladolid, Zamora, Murcia and Cuenca.
Traditional fiestas and pilgrimage excursions
Spring brings an explosion of light and brilliance in festivities like the Murcia fiestas and the classically Andalusian April Fair in Seville, a week given over to the local colour of the citys folklore and to unrestrained expression of joy and happiness. Equally spectacular and colourful is the celebration of the Moors and Christians fiesta, to be seen at its most sumptuous and authentic in the town of Alcoy, in Spains Levant region.
Pilgrimage excursions (romerías) or country fiestas are found by the score across the length and breadth of Spain. There are those with a long tradition, such as La Caballada of Atienza (Guadalajara) and A rapa das bestas (the rounding-up and trimming of manes of wild stallions) in the La Groba hill country (Galicia), yet the romería that is without rival for noisy popular fervour and beauty is the Rocío in Almonte (Huelva) in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Another religious feast of consequence is the celebration of Corpus Christi in Toledo, where the solemn splendour of the procession is movingly accompanied by the ancient guilds. Impressive Corpus Christi celebrations are also held in Camuñas (Toledo) and Berga (Barcelona).
The rites of summer
St. Johns Day in June brings the typical night-time festivities, known as the paso del fuego (leaping over or running a gauntlet of flames), which takes place in San Pedro Manrique (Soria), and the famed exhibition of horsemanship, Caragols, in the Menorcan town of Ciutadella.
July is, above all, the month of the Sanfermines in Pamplona. The citys famous running of the bulls (encierros) and the publics mass participation is an image which has gone round the world. Fairs and pilgrimages, such as that of Ribarteme in Galicia and its resucitados de Santa Marta or the Asturian boda vaqueira, underscore the profusion of fiestas in Spain rooted in the rites of harvest.
Elche, in the south of the Province of Alicante, provides the setting for yet another well-known fiesta in Spain, the Misteri dElx (Elche Mystery Play), which is staged in August and re-enacts the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Major fiestas and folklore
Another typical feature of life in Spain are the Fiestas Mayores held in La Alberca (Salamanca), Vejer de la Frontera (Cadiz), Toro (Zamora), Ondarroa (Vizcaya), Logroño, and a host of other towns and villages, from August to October.
Christmas signals a close to the yearly festive cycle and in Spain is given a distinctive touch with the traditional display of nativity scenes and processions to mark Epiphany (popularly called Reyes Magos in Spain, in honour of the three Magi, it is the day when gifts are exchanged in preference and, increasingly, in addition to Christmas Day).
Folklore is the expression of the most cherished and deeply felt emotions and folk wisdom of the Spanish people. Almost all the different regions possess a rich store of dance and song which serves as inspiration for many a public performance. Among the best-known examples of Spanish folk-dances are the Galician muñeira, the Aragonese and Valencian jotas, the Catalonian sardana, the Basque zortziko and the Andalusian sevillanas.
|COSTA DE LA LUZ (south of Spain)|
As a result of its favourable climate, there are popular celebrations on the Costa de la Luz throughout the year. However, most take place during the spring and summer. Religious festivals are celebrated in accordance with the Christian liturgical calender, the main ones being "Holy Week" and "Corpus Christi". Every town and village has its popular fairs. These are often to commemorate "virgins" and patron saints, or even on the occasion of the grape harvest or the selling of livestock. In many cases, the origins of these fairs go back to medieval times. Some festivities, known as "Romerias", are held in the open air at the site of shrines and hermitages, and these begin from the very moment the people leave their village and make their way to the shrine. They come to an end on the saint's day to commemorate.
"El Rocio" is undoubtedly the most popular "romeria" in Spain. The first brotherhoods were formed towards the end of the 17th century, and in 1758 the brotherhood of Almonte drew up a set of rules. According to the traditional version, the pilgrims must follow the route either on horseback or by cart, and they must wear flamenco dress. They must accompany the "Simpecado" -a kind of small temple that houses the Virgin and is carried on an oxcart. The brotherhoods set out from different parts of Andalusia and the rest of Spain and arrive at the small village on Whit Saturday. The town somehow finds room for more than a million pilgrims. On the Sunday a mass is held for the multitude in "el Real" (the site of the romeria) with offerings and prayers, and meanwhile the festivities continue as the followers of El Rocio form rings and improvise songs or dance to the sound of a small drum, usually helped along by copious quantities of wine. On the Monday, at dawn, the "salto de la reja" takes place. This is the privilege of the brotherhood of Almonte. They take the Virgin out of the shrine and parade her through the crowd who acclaim her as "Queen of the marshes" and "The White Dove". No-one is allowed to go near her. Then the procession moves on the headquarters of the different brotherhoods where the "Salve" is sung, until the Virgin is finally taken away again and the festivities are over.
Tradition and folklore are the essence of all these celebration, and the openness and friendliness of the Andalusian people is such that any outsider wishing to take part is made more than welcome.
The following is a list of popular festivities that have been declared of interest to tourists: the Carnival Festivities at Cadiz, Holy Week at Arcos de la Frontera, the Horse fair at Jerez de la Frontera, the "Romeria del Rocio", Corpus Christi at Zahara de la Sierra, the Festivities of the Grape Harvest at Jerez de la Frontera and the Royal Fair and Festivities of the Grape Harvest.