The 11 Strangest Festivals in Spain
By Davey Womack
It can’t be denied that the Spanish know how to party. The country is practically synonymous with the art of the fiesta. If there’s one flaw with the Spaniards love for parties, it’s that sometimes they party too much. Or, worse, party when it isn’t appropriate.
In the quest to celebrate everything, some rather strange festivals have been birthed. What follows are, in my opinion, the eleven weirdest festivals in Spain.
11. Tamborrada Drum Festival
We start our countdown in the Basque country. Naturally. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pronounce a Basque surname, but it’s certainly strange to an English tongue… Every 20th January, the beach town of San Sebastian pays homage to its patron saint. Over time the traditions of this celebration have morphed into a drum parade. Everyone dresses like soldiers, and marches through town mimicking revolutionaries fighting for independence against the oppressive Spanish crown. We’ll move swiftly on now, for fear of making this light blog post political…
10. New Years in August
Spain has many New Year traditions: Cava at midnight, 12 grapes, one for each toll of the bell, music and dancing and even red underwear for good luck! But in the village of Bérchules in Las Alpujarras in Andalusia they carry out these traditions in August. Some years ago a power cut ruined their new years festivities, you see, so they agreed to have the celebrations on the third Saturday in August. Although power cuts are much less common now, the villagers realised that parties are better in the Spanish sun than on snowy winter days, so the tradition has continued ever since.
9. Dance of the Dead
Easter is one of the main festivals in the Catholic calendar, and so, naturally in a country as Catholic as Spain, is a hotbed for some of the strangest festivals going. Take, for example, the Dance of the Dead which happens every Maundy Thursday in Verges Catalonia. This event sees a procession of people dressed in skeleton costumes carrying scythes walk through town. As with all things, it has supposed symbolism. In this case, it symbolises the final judgement of souls after death. However, I’m more concerned with how odd it is to witness thousands of grim reapers walking through a small town just east of nowhere.
8. Wine Fight
The small town of Haro in la Rioja wine region plays host to a curious festival every June. Locals get together to share a large feast, but not before throwing wine at each other. Participants climb a mountain and then the fight begins as they descend. They look like something terrible has happened by the time they get into town (and of course, many would suggest that such a huge waste of such delicious wine is indeed something terrible), but it’s nothing a quick shower and a large feast can’t cure!
7. Human Tower Building Competition
It’s no secret that the world has some crazy traditions – I mean, have you ever stopped to consider how strange Christmas trees are. Amongst those crazy tradition is the practice of forming human towers in Catalonia. These happen year round at festivities all over the region, but the biggest event is the Human Tower Building Compeition in Taragona. These Catalan Castells were declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. Spectators come from all over the world to witness people quite literally climbing into the sky.
6. Flour Fight Festival
At the Els Enfarinats festival in Ibi, citizens celebrate by means of a battle of flour, eggs and firecrackers. Some even fill fire extinguishers with flour! As well as the flour fight, the festival sees a group of married men get together and create a bunch of crazy laws for the day. All the money collected from fines for breaking these laws is given to charitable causes. The festival has been celebrated since 1981, when the town of Ibi recovered the tradition, but the origins remain unknown.
5. La Tomatina
Held in Buñol, Valencia. Since 1945 it has been held on the last Wednesday of August, during the week of the festivities of Buñol. There is no reason for the large tomato fight other than entertainment. Its origins come from a food fight which started when a member of a procession for the original festivities was pushed over. Eventually the authorities intervened to stop the madness, but a crazy tradition was born.
4. Las Fallas
We stay in Valencia, but now move into the capital for another odd festival. The Falles festival held in commemoration of St Joseph sees large, surreal, floats paraded through the city only to be burnt at the end of the day. As a frugal Brit, the idea of holding fundraising events throughout the year to raise the money to build the floats only to burn them at the end of the festival is completely alien to me. I shall resist the urge to have a good old fashioned rant, but why spend so much money making something so gran, only to burn it to cinder in less than a week.
3. San Fermin
Along with La Tomatina, this is probably the most famous festival in Spain. The running of the bulls happens during San Fermin festival in Pamplona. The week long festival would be your standard Spanish fiesta if not for the running of the bulls. But every year, thousands of people crowd the streets of Pamplona purely for the exhilaration of nearly being trampled to death. Why people consider this entertainment worth travelling the world for I don’t know, but they do. Most locals these days avoid the bull run, preferring the more sedate side of the party: the singing, drinking, and dancing. But they can’t escape the fact that they started this lunacy, and it’s the insane run of the bulls that sees this festival reach so far up our list.
2. Santa Semana
As you know, the KKK is a horrible organisation: racist, homophobic, and pretty much anti everything. As you also know, they have an instantly recognisable uniform. But did you know, that they stole those garments to mock Catholicism? The Capirote is one of the most sacred vestments in the Catholic tradition. During holy week in Seville, you will see thousands of people in this attire marching the streets. It is quite a terrifying sight to walk home from a party at four on a Friday morning and see thousands of robe-clad people slowly marching whilst holding lit candles. I can assure you, that when you’re not entirely in control of all your mental faculties, the instinct is to take flight when greeted with such a sight. What’s more, these people follow huge floats of crying virgins. These are marched for twelve hours straight on an legion of twenty men’s heads. Whole wings of hospitals open to deal with injuries to these people. The combination of these two highly unusual things make this festival worthy of such a high place.
1. Festival of Near Death Experiences
We’ve seen a broad spectrum of strangeness in this countdown, but, in this writers opinion, this final festival really takes the hallucinogenic biscuit for surrealism. Once a year in the tiny town of Las Nieves in Galicia, perched on the Portugal border, possibly the strangest festival I’ve ever heard of takes place. The Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme takes place on 29th July and sees people who have nearly died throughout the year paraded through town in open coffins. Naturally, a marching band serenade the lucky survivors as they fan themselves, dressed in all white, lying in the midsummer sun as they’re walked through town. If there’s anything stranger in this world than riding an open top coffin through a small town whilst people applaud you for dodging that bus, I don’t think I can handle it.