Let’s take a look at some of the biggest and most widely celebrated fiestas in this extraordinary country

The land of the fiesta (festival), Spain has hundreds (probably!) of local and national festivals which will allow you to immerse yourself in Spanish culture while you’re studying here. From throwing tomatoes to burying the sardine, Spain has it all!

1. La Tomatina – Tomato throwing festival

Every year in the town of Buñol in the Valencia region, locals and tourists alike gather to take part in the annual tomato festival. This quirky (poco convencional) event originated as a result of a fight between festival goers at a local parade in 1945. One of the participants was so angry that he started throwing anything he could find at the other attendees, including overripe (pasado) tomatoes! As a result, the town decided to make this an annual tradition and now thousands of tons of this red fruit (or is it a vegetable?) are launched throughout the town in August each year. If you go, prepare to get absolutely covered in tomato juice so make sure you wear clothes you don’t really care about!

2. Las fallas de Valencia

Another amazing event, not far from La Tomatina in the city of Valencia, this traditional festival lasts for 5 days every March. With a huge fireworks (fuegos artificiales) battle across the river, traditional dancing and the burning of the fallas, you’ll surely be entertained during your visit. The fallas are huge papier-mâché models which are built during the year prior to the festival. They often represent political figures, traditional customs and are often satirical comments on societal issues. These gigantic effigies can reach up to 30 metres in height and are displayed all around the city. You can take a wander around the streets, drinking a refreshing glass of horchata (tiger nut milk) during the first few days of the event. However, don’t wait until the final day as all the statues are burnt to the ground in celebration of the arrival of spring (primavera). However, don’t despair as the favourite falla each year is saved and preserved in a museum to enjoy for years to come.

3. El carnaval de Santa Cruz de Tenerife – Carnival time!

While there are carnivals (carnavales) all over Spain, the biggest and most famous of these takes place in the capital of Tenerife, Santa Cruz, in the Canary Islands (las Islas Canarias). This three week festival takes place in June and is an amalgam of vibrant costumes, over-the-top parades and, of course, the famous entierro de la sardina (the burial of the sardine). Like with any carnival, the main events are the huge street parties (fiestas en las calles) and the fantastic parade (cabalgata). Also, no carnival would be complete without the crowning of the carnival queen (la reina del carnaval) after the contenders strut their stuff (lucirse) on stage. On one of the final days you can see the entierro de la sardina where a giant sardine is paraded through the streets and ceremonially burned (quemada) to celebrate the end of the festival and the hope that it will happen again next year. Have you noticed yet that Spaniards seem to love festivals with something being burned?

4. La noche de San Juan

The noche de San Juan (Saint John’s Eve) is actually a religious festival celebrating the birth of Juan el bautista (John the Baptist) who was born six months before Jesus. Nowadays, it is also somewhat related with the solsticio de verano (summer solstice) and is celebrated on the 23 june. The festival is most widely celebrated in coastal regions of the country, most notably in Cataluña, Valencia and Galicia. One of the biggest San Juan events takes place near Albacete where it is also a local festival. Thousands of people gather on beaches (playas) and huge bonfires (hogueras) are built to mark the event. Legend has it that you must jump over a (small!) bonfire three times in order to be purified of your sins! Whilst celebrating, you should also try a coca de San Juan which is a flat pastry-like food covered in various toppings such as tomato, vegetables and meat – delicious!

5. La Mercè – Barcelona’s local festival

Every 24 September, Barcelona celebrates the festival of one its patrons (patrón) La Mercè. Multiple events take place through the city to mark the day including the parade of the gegants (giants in Catalan) which are huge wooden figures which are taken around the city and represent famous historical figures. Also, there are groups dancing the sardana – a traditional dance from the Cataluña region and who compete to show which one can do it best! Not only is there a dancing competition, but also one in which groups of people try to form the highest human tower (castell) which can reach up to 11 metres high! And how do you form one of these structures? Well, a group of people form the base of the tower, then more and more people climb on top of this base, stand up and then climb on the shoulders of the person below! Fancy a go?

6. San Isidro – Patron Saint of Madrid

You didn’t think we’d forgotten about Madrid, did you? Here at Hablamos we obviously all celebrate the festival of San Isidro here in the capital. Taking place over a week in May, the main day is 15 May. Over these 7 days there are all sorts of concerts (conciertos), parties (fiestas) and displays of the traditional dance el chotis all over the city. The local madrileños dress up in traditional costumes as chulapos if you’re a man and chulapas if you’re a woman and take to the streets to celebrate. I actually live very close to the Parque de San Isidro (San Isidro Park) just south of the Manzanares river where the main festivities take place. Let me tell you, it’s an extremely noisy affair but it’s also a perfect opportunity to get to know some locals and take part in the cultural life of this beautiful city in which you’ll be studying Spanish!

We hope that’s given you a taste for the fantastic fiestas on offer here in Spain. Come and do a course here at Hablamos and take advantage of Madrid’s central location to visit these festivals and more!