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Local Fiestas in Spain

flagsEach town and village in Spain has its own fiestas at least once a year. For many this includes days when the streets are lined with cages and barriers from which spectators watch or daredevils can leap in and out to provoke the bulls, (like it or not).  There are also impressive firework displays and bangers that puncture the sky and music stages are constructed for all night entertainment. Even smaller hamlets have parades and big party nights until dawn with giant paellas and much celebration. 

Until I lived here I had no idea that there was such widespread frivolity.  I knew about the well-known events that attract tourists from all over Europe and beyond, like Semana Santa parades at Easter in Sevilla, the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, Carnival in Tenerife or Cadiz (a big fancy dress-fest), and the historic Moors and Christians parades and reanactments in Alcoy. But did you realise these traditions are also recreated in almost every town across Spain? And each locale also has its own designated, much awaited days of fiesta where normal routine stops and those that live in the village itself give up on the idea of sleep.  

There are also the unique fiestas that have evolved from the local environment and culture.  In Haro, La Rioja on the 29 June there is a wine throwing fiestas.  In Valencia (and smaller versions of it in the district) the Fallas is an event where large cartoon-like structions (often depicting political figures) are spectacularly set on fire in the middle of the city (more relaxed health and safety rules here!) and in Buñol, Valencia there is a mad tomato hurling extravaganza on the 31 August.

festerosWith economic problems engulfing the lives of most citizens of Spain I wondered how the festivities would be affected.  I learnt that in my village, thought of as relatively prosperous in the area, the local council still gives a sum towards the costs, but the majority of the funds are raised by the ´festeros´.  It is thought of as an honour to be one, but it carries with it the responsibility of harranging your neighbours to buy calandars, accessories, lottery and event tickets thoughout the year.  The opportunity to be a festero comes at certain ages - around 8, 18 and 40. paradeThere are social and organisational meetings throughout the year, elections to discover who will be the Queen, and preparation of elaborate gowns for the ladies and girls and outfits for the men and boys who accompany them in the fiestas parades. If you see a doorway framed by a large bush this is the home of a festera.

It is an expensive business for everyone but people somehow find the money to support the festeros even in difficult times. This is of course becoming more and more of a strain and cuts are being made to the expenditure in the current crisis. But it is difficult for the locals to drop age-old traditions that bind community in a way that has been sadly lost in other countries a long time ago. The majority of spanish that I know don´t go away on holiday; instead they save their holiday days and money to be a part of their local fiestas, and celebrate village life, and religion and history altogether.  

fireworkSo we prepared for our big night out with live music; had a siesta, arranged childcare and cleared the next day for recovery. The party only gets started around midnight as the streets fill to the boom-boom of fireworks.  It gets messy as the drinks flow but without the negativity that seems to go hand-in-hand with alcohol fuelled nights in the UK. After much dancing and exuberance we reached home at dawn. Unfortunately this year wasn't the success it should have been as we came back to find that someone had skipped the fiestas in favour of burglary - perhaps another sign of the financial troubles being faced here.

On Monday, a local holiday, the children joined craft making and took 'train' rides around the plaza.  This was followed by the gathering of elegantly dressed villagers turning out to see streetscenethe parade of El Dia de la Purissima Xiqueta - the festeros in all their regalia and accompanied by brass bands.  An ear-piercing tirade of banger fireworks ends with a cheer from the crowd before they disperse in groups back home.

On Tuesday the children gather for more games and the festeros put on a giant paella for their neighbours.  Adults and children wear the colourful overalls to mark their Quinto, the year of their birth.  There is no hiding from your age here!  

Wednesday is a quieter day but never doubt that each night the party continues.  The streets are busily being transformed in preparation for the bulls who will provide action over the next couple of days.

We avoid the bulls but reappear on Saturday for the vast paella being skillfully created in the plaza alongside rows of tables were locals sit together in their Quintos and the children dart amongst them firing water pistols. It's great to be a part of this gathering but sadly it is tainted for us by the nagging wish to be home warding off potential robbers. In the end an unexpected rain shower sends everyone darting back through the confetti strewn streets under the dripping, bright banners to shelter.