The shortest day of the year is over and with winter turning into spring soon in just over two months, festival season has arrived already.
If you’re planning a timeshare break in Spain in the next few months, here are some of the country’s best-loved festivals where you’ll be tempted to join the celebrations and eat, drink and celebrate as the locals will be doing.
January 19–20: San Sebastian Festival, Majorca and San Sebastian
This festival is all about bonfires, drumming and dancing as the locals celebrate St. Sebastian, with the famous “la taborrada” drumming parades taking place in Spain’s northern city of San Sebastian. During “La taborrada”, drummers march along the usually much quieter streets of the city in brass band style, beating large barrel-style drums (a throwback to the time when Napoleon’s soldiers were stationed here). San Sebastian is 2016’s City of Culture, so there will be a lot more celebrating going on here all year long!
February 1–3: The Arizkun Carnival (Jumping the bonfire), Arizkun, Navarra
Bonfires feature heavily in Spanish festivals and during this particular celebration, thousands of people queue up in the streets and jump over some 20 bonfires. (The more practice you get in for this one, the better). Legend has it this helps promote fertility and ward off evil spirits, according to a tradition that dates back to pagan times. You’ll see locals dressed in maypole hats carrying brushes or wearing sheepskin coats…this might be one of the few festivals you may not be participating in, though, because of the fire risk!
February 4–10: Sitges Carnival, Catalonia
Sitges is one of Spain’s prettiest towns and this gay parade is one of the most flamboyant in the entire country. They really know how to put on a show. It’s a week of wild extravagance which kicks off with Jueves Lardero (‘Fatty Thursday’). Expect drag queen shows, much feasting on local dishes and if you want to catch one of the two main parades, they’ll be making their way through the town on the Sunday and Tuesday from 7.30pm onwards. If you fancy watching the celebrations, remember that it’ll be chilly at night so wrap up! And in case you’re visiting for the evening from nearby Barcelona there are always extra night trains and bus services during this carnival so you’ll be able to get back to your hotel after the big extravaganza.
February 18–21: International animation festival, Lleida, Catalonia
One for film lovers now, this time it’s Leida’s annual Animac Mostra Inernacional de Cinema d’Animació de Cataluyna which is a film exhibition open to makers of animated films using a variety of techniques. It’s not a competition but expect plenty of originality. A must for animated film fans. www.animac.cat.
March 15–19: Las Fallas Festival, Valencia
The burning/bonfire theme continues. Las Fallas has to be one Spain’s most spectacular festivals of the year and you can catch it in Valencia every March. Huge cartoon and parody-style puppets and sculptures represent modern cultural icons like Shrek and President Obama as well as more traditional figures. You’ll want to get to see the creations close up before they get burned as they really are works of art. They’ll be on display all over the city before they’re burned in one of the many bonfires. The bonfires here are so big that the local firemen are all on hand in case of any emergencies – you won’t believe you’re eyes when you see the size of these fires lighting up the streets and squares at night. The whole festival has a magical, surreal feel to it and the last night is the one not to miss! Visit www.fallasfromvalencia.com
March 20–26: Holy Week (Semana Santa), Seville
Semana Santa is by far one of the most important festivals on the Spanish calendar. The Easter festivities are big all over Spain, not just Seville but this city’s celebrations are the biggest. (If you’re in Malaga, local Malagueno Antonio Banderas often visits this week, to watch the processions parading through the streets, with his hometown friends and family from a window above). The processions are broadcast all over Spanish TV, and they’re full of floats bearing jewelled statues of Mary and Jesus, penitents wearing pointed hoods, and the sombre beat of the brass bands. They begin on Palm Sunday the week before Easter, and continue until the following Sunday. Seville – and a lot of other Spanish cities – will be packed with visitors and locals but the experience is dramatic, sobering and unforgettable so it’s worth seeing at least once in your life. www.andalucia.com
April 23: Saint George Festival, Barcelona
Sant Jordi, or St George, is the patron saint of Catalonia (as well as England and about 10 other countries!) St George’s Day in Barcelona also takes on a Valentine’s Day flavour when romance is very much in the air. The tradition is for a suitor to give his chosen woman a rose, in return for a book. Love is everywhere and so are Catalonia’s bright red and yellow flags, flying proudly everywhere, called the “Senyera”
April: Feria de Sevilla, Seville
It’s back to Seville for its famous Spring Fair! The Feria, comes two clear weeks after Semana Santa. Expect lots of food, drink, music and dancing during the joyous celebrations. Part of the city becomes a series of tents/pavilions where you’ll find delicious foods to savour, and where the locals eat, drink and socialise. Most are “private” but there are about six or seven public ones so you’ll get to join all the festivities along with the other tourists in town. The horseriders are absolutely stunning – the men wear boleros and tight trousers and the women (including the cutest little girls) will be in the flamboyant flamenco dresses in bright colours, like red and yellow, heralding the colours of spring.
Seville’s Feria is picture postcard stuff – take the camera and start snapping, because the festivities, flamboyant atmosphere and energy during this week is quite something