Tips: google with name of town or city and name of festival for more information. Look carefully as there is often information from previous years still posted. If you are already in the area: check with local or regional tourism office as details vary from year to year – or dates may change slightly to hold celebrations on weekends. If you are in a village and there is no tourism office, ask at the local bakery or bar. See Madrid’s drop-down menu for fiestas in that city.
Hottest on this post (well. Beiside Christmas, which you already know but should see for Spanish traditions): El Pilar, October 12. Spain’s female patron saint is celebrated all over the country (national holiday so many things will be closed). It’s the day Columbus landed on a Caribbean island, “discovering” the Americas and as such is also celebrated as Dia de la Hispanidad (sort of like Day of the Spanish People, including Latin America).
The most important celebrations are in Zaragoza (between Madrid and Barcelona, October 4-13, 2014). This website looks like the most official and most informative, though there are others. http://www.zaragoza.es/ciudad/fiestaspilar/ If you want to go and stay overnight to see the fun, check hotels NOW (you may already be too late). Or….. you could go by train, it’s less than 90 minutes by bullet train from Madrid. For more info see www.renfe.com
But it’s not just in Zaragoza. Madrid’s Pilar neighborhood has fiestas http://www.barriodelpilar.com/fiestas.htm AND a special Aragonese style mass at Santa Cruz church. I have never attended this mass, but guessing that some people will attend in typical dress and they may include some of the Zaragoza rituals of offering flowers and vegetables, which I’ve always viewed as sort of a harvest celebration. In 2014 that mass is : Oct 12 at 11.30, Santa Cruz church at Atocha 6 (Metro Sol)
It looks like the traditional military parade in Madrid is back in 2014 – if you have wondered at the planes flying low and loud they’re practicing for the Event. Have not found the schedule for this year, but it will be on October 12 and probably on the Castellana between Nuevos Ministerios and Colon or Cibeles.
October the number of fiestas drops dramatically, especially after October 12, Virgen del Pilar, Spain’s female patron saint and patron of the city of Zaragoza, where there is a large celebration. But there are still some things to see if you’re traveling at this time of year: Around October 9 (dates vary): Cervantes Week in Alcalá de Henares (Near Madrid), usually with “medieval” market and cultural events. October 15, Saint Teresa, celebrated especially in Ávila where the saint was born and lived part of her life, and in nearby Alba de Tormes, celebrated in both places with the mixture of religious and popular celebrations that are typical of Spanish fiestas. Sta Teresa is also celebrated in Campello (Alicante) and Malagón (Ciudad Real). Oct 18, Saint Lucas, celebrated in Mondoñedo and Chantada (both in Lugo), Olot (Girona) and Jaen capital, all with parades and pagan celebrations to match the religious. October 21, Saint Ursula, Valls (Tarragona), where an important part of the celebration is making “castells” (human towers, people stand on shoulders of their companions and reach as high as a second story balcony). Third Sunday is celebrated in Dos Hermanas (Sevilla) with a procession to a country chapel. October 28, Saint Simon, Villanueva de Arosa (coastal Pontevedra), fiesta of wine and wood (including wine-barrel making), with typical gastronomic treats, regional dances and more; also celebrated in Zahara de la Sierra (Cadiz) in remembrance of the date the town was reconquered by the Christians in the Middle Ages. Last Sunday: Saffron festival in Consuegra (Toledo), when one of Consuegra’s Don Quijote-type windmills swings into action and the town celebrates the harvest of saffron (made from part of a flower). October 29: Saint Narcis, celebrated during a week in the city of Girona.
November November 1 (All Saint’s Day) is a national holiday and is celebrated different ways all over the country, often with pastries and in northern Spain with roast chestnuts. In November lots of towns (especially in northern Spain) also celebrate public or private “matanza”, where pigs are butchered to make ham and sausage. November 11: Saint Martin, celebrated in lots of towns including Bueu (Pontevedra), where top-spinning is traditional for children’s fiesta, Orense city, celebrating fall harvest products like wine and chestnuts. November 13, Medinacelli (Soria). November 22, Saint Cecilia in Mollo (Girona) and Salas de los Infantes (Burgos). November 25, Saint Catherine, celebrated in Barro-Llanes (Asturias) with roast chestnuts and hard apple cider, and in Tacoronte (Tenerife, Canary Islands) November 30, Saint Andrew, patron of sailors, celebrated in Castro-Urdiales (Santander), Torroella de Montgri (Girona), Pinofranqueado (Cáceres), among other places.
December: December 8, The Immaculate Conception, holiday in the whole country, as well as December 6, Constitution Day. Plan ahead if you are here these days, as transportation and museum schedules may be different. “La Imaculada” is celebrated in towns all over Spain, to mention a few: Alosno (Huelva), Castelldefels (near Barcelona), Cambrils (near Tarragona), Monforte del Cid (Alicante province) and Torrejoncillo (Cáceres province). December 13, Santa Lucía, celebrated in Barcelona, Sos del Rey Católico (Zaragoza province), Zumarraga (Guipúzcoa province). Sunday nearest to December 19, San Urbez in Ceresola (Huesca), with a procession to a cave where mass is celebrated then a bonfire is lit nearby. December 21 Santo Tomás, San Sebastián for a traditional Basque fiesta. December 28: the Santos Inocentes or the Innocent Saints, the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day. Often the press or radio will do some kind of fake news item as their “inocentada” trick. It’s easy to get caught by these or other tricks – and fun to plan a few yourself. The same day is also celebrated in Elche (Alicante), commemorating the arrival of a mysterious vessel with a statue of the Virgen.
CHRISTMAS: Of course the December biggie is Christmas, celebrated all over the country. Some towns have special rituals or processions, religious plays or people singing Christmas carols and asking for the “aguinaldo” (tip or small gift): Palma de Mallorca, Pamplona, Santurce (Vizcaya), Isona (Lleida) and Lesaca (Navarra) are a few examples.
Unlike the USA, or at least unlike my own family traditions, Christmas Eve is almost more important than Christmas Day – midnight mass included (called the Misa del Gallo or the “Rooster’s Mass”). In the past, the traditional day for gifts was Epiphany or King’s Day (Jan 6) but now that is giving way to Christmas, too, though often gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Some towns have special rituals or processions, religious plays or people singing Christmas carols and asking for the “aguinaldo” (tip or small gift): Palma de Mallorca, Pamplona, Santurce (Vizcaya), Isona (Lleida) and Lesaca (Navarra) are a few examples.
Another difference is that in Spain the Christmas tree is not traditional but an import: here the traditional symbol is a Nativity scene, often very elaborate with scenes from everyday life (chestnut sellers, shopkeepers, blacksmiths). If you are in Spain before Christmas, be sure to see the Nativity (usually called “Belen”, Bethlehem in Spanish) at the towns you visit – if the town is biggish, they probably have a town “Belen” and some in shop windows, too. You may also find stores selling Nativity figures, like the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
An integral part of Spain’s Christmas is the Gordo, the special lottery drawing on December 22 (Gordo means Fat One). Most of the country is on pause that morning as the children from a Madrid school “sing” the numbers. Top prize in 2014: 400.000 euros per “décimo” – the ticket most people buy (20 euros), with many other prizes below that. To know if you won: lists are posted in columns by last digits (yes really), and the amount of your prize depends on how many digits, counting from the last, coincide with the big prize (for example). Other prizes also listed in those columns, there are many “pedreas” (stone-throws), random prizes that usually pay back what you paid in and something more. Where people buy: all over the country – but especially in a small town in Lérida called Sort (luck in Catalan) that has got the “Gordo” more than once, also if there has been some kind of disaster (natural or human) in the previous year, people often buy there on the theory that the Powers that rule Lady Luck tend to even things out. December 22 and 23 all the news services run stories / newsclips on where the prizes “fell” – whole towns drinking cava or jumping up and down in front of a lottery seller.
Another important part of the holidays: the grapes on New Year’s Eve: twelve white grapes gobbled with the twelve strokes of midnight, one for each month to bring luck in the new year, of course followed by a hearty swig or five of cava (Spanish bubbly). This tradition is actually not that old: it started in 1909 when grape-growers in eastern Spain had a huge harvest and invented the idea to get rid of the excess. If you haven’t done this before, here are some tips: grapes must be white, and you should choose by size (obviously easier if they’re smaller). Most grapes sold at this time of year are seedless, but it doesn’t hurt to check (and will not affect getting or not getting the luck you are seeking). A friend of mine peels her grapes which personally I think is not quite right, and might affect the final outcome (luck or no luck). When the time comes, hold your twelve grapes in a small dish next to your mouth (minimizing lost time moving your hand grape container to mouth). VERY IMPORTANT TIP: do not look at your companions, all concentrating on gobbling grapes, chipmunk cheeks and all, or you will start laughing, possibly spewing chewed grape all over the table. ANOTHER IMPORTANT TIP, reminded every year: here in Spain the twelve strokes of midnight are preceeded by the “cuartos”, a higher-toned bing-bong, bing-bong, bing-bong, bing-bong (four times) then the deeper bong bong bong of the strokes of midnight. The official clock for this important moment is in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, see Christmas in Madrid for more tips.