For Spaniards, every day is worthy of a celebration. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s bound to be at least one fantastic fiesta going on in this Mediterranean nation. Below, we’ll detail just a few of the most historically significant fiestas in Spain.
San Fermín (Sanfermines)
Even if you know nothing about Spanish culture, you’ve probably seen the “running of the bulls” during San Fermín Fiesta on TV before. Interestingly, it wasn’t until Ernest Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises that Pamplona’s San Fermín Fiesta (aka Sanfermines) became internationally famous. Nobody’s exactly sure why this weeklong summertime festival includes a bull run, but some scholars believe it might’ve originated in the Middle Ages to transport bulls into public arenas.
Drawing in roughly two million tourists every March, Valencia’s Las Fallas is undoubtedly one of Spain’s most popular fiestas. According to legend, this festival began in the Middle Ages when carpenters burnt scraps in honor of Saint Joseph on March 19th. Eventually, locals started to form these scraps into elaborate papier-mâché figurines now known as Fallas. Today, over 400 groups in Valencia work year-round to construct elaborate fallas and then set them ablaze.
Carnaval de Tenerife
Sure, Rio de Janeiro boasts the world’s largest Carnival celebration, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a glorious Fat Tuesday while in Spain. Indeed, the Carnaval de Tenerife is considered the world’s second largest Carnival after Rio. Every February, millions descend upon the Canary Islands’ capital to see the special themed costumes, light displays, and floats. A few fun themes at recent Carnaval de Tenerife fiestas include cartoon characters, the 1980s, and sci-fi.
For those who don’t mind getting a tad messy, consider visiting Buñol on the last Wednesday of August. On this day, Buñol engages in a massive tomato-throwing fiesta appropriately known as La Tomatina. Locals say this festival began in the 1940s when a group of pranksters caused a massive food fight during a summer parade. Every attempt to ban Tomatina in the past has only increased Tomatina’s popularity throughout Spain.
Fiestas del Pilar
The city of Zaragoza comes alive every October with its Fiestas del Pila. Originating in the 1600s, this weeklong fiesta honors reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary with concerts, parades, and, of course, bull fights. The most significant event during the Fiestas del Pila, however, is the offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary at the Plaza del Pilar. Thousands of volunteers come together to form an incredible pyramidal flower formation.
Fiestas de Santa Tecla
Originating in the 1300s, the Fiestas de Santa Tecla is one of Catalonia’s biggest festivals. Full of lively dancing, music, and sport, this fiesta is named in honor of one of St. Paul’s disciples. On top of all the singing and merrymaking, the Santa Tecla Festival is best known for its tradition of human pyramid building. Anyone who wants to take part in these festivities should visit Tarragona between September 15 – 23.
One of Spain’s spookiest fiestas is the “Endiablada,” which means something like “The Fraternity of Devils.” As the name suggests, the highlight of this early February festival is a dance of costumed devils who ring cowbells throughout the streets of Almonacid del Marquesado. There are two possible explanations for this very old custom. Either this is a reenactment of a Biblical scene, or these devils re-create an episode in the history of Almonacid del Marquesado when a peasant discovered an image of patron saint San Bas.
Tamborrada de San Sebastián
At the stroke of midnight on January 20th, San Sebastián’s streets ring with the peal of defiant drums and loud voices. This 24-hour festival known as the Tamborrada is said to commemorate the brave citizens of San Sebasitán who endured Napoleonic occupation. During this time, groups of chefs apparently got together and mocked the French by clanging pots and pans in imitation of the soldiers’ drums. For this reason, you’ll see many of the people participating in Tamborrada dressed in culinary attire.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing a Spanish fiesta first-hand. Whether you want to get messy in a tomato fight, hear a 24-hour percussion procession, or witness the thrill that is the “running of the bulls,” Spanish fiestas have a lot to offer adventurous tourists.