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There is no better way to get to know the Andalucians than through their many and fascinating feast days. The local fiesta is the moment when every town and village strives to put on a splendid show, not only for themselves but also for those who come from afar to admire and enjoy. Over 3,000 fiestas are celebrated every year in Andalucia, including fairs, pilgrimages, carnivals, mock battles between Moors and Christians and religious processions, throughout the some 800 communities of the region.

In fact, there is scarcely a day in the year without its fiesta, with special emphasis on the periods before and after the autumn harvests. Each town has its own patron saint and yearly procession.

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ALWAYS CHECK WITH THE LOCAL TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICE REGARDING THE VARIOUS FIESTAS, FESTIVALS OR FAIRS IN THE RESORT YOU ARE STAYING IN.

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Here is a guide to the major fiestas which take place each year in Andalucia.

The Three Kings

Fiesta de Los Reyes. This is the moment when the three kings of Orient bring their Christmas presents to the children, on the evening of the 5th of January. Three men dress up as the kings, one with a black face, and ride about the town in a procession, scattering sweets to the crowds of excited children. The 6th of January is the public holiday in all Spain.


Carnivals

As elsewhere in the Catholic world, carnival is celebrated before the 40 days of Lent. Most Andalucian towns stage some kind of parade, and there is usually a dance and a "Carnival Queen" contest. As one of Spain´s major ports during the 16th century, Cadiz copied the carnival of Venice, a city with which it had much trade, and since then it has become the liveliest and most dazzling carnival town in mainland Spain, famous for its amusing and creative figurines and satirical song groups.

The Carnival centres around Shrove Tuesday (March 4th 2003, February 24th 2004, February 8th 2005, February 28th 2006) Most towns celebrate the carnival with processions either the weekend before or after. Larger towns have festivities lasting all week.

The best-known celebrations being those of Cadiz Carnival. Other nearby towns such as El Puerto de Santa María, Rota, San Fernando, Chiclana, Algeciras, Medina-Sidonia and Trebujena. have lavish carnivals. Isla Cristina and Ayamonte, are also famous for their elaborate costumes and excitement, drawing visitors from throughout the region and the other side of the Portuguese border as well.

The carnival is the fiesta of the people. It is a reaction against the abstentions and prohibitions of all types. This fiesta attempts to break social order and liberalise instincts, helped by wearing masks and fancy dress. During the Civil War, General Franco abolished the Carnival in rebel areas. After the war there was still much opposition to the Carnival by the rulers so Franco abolished the Carnival in 1937. It continued in however in Cadiz and some other towns namely, Ayamonte, Isla Cristina, Fuentes de Andalucia, Trabujena, and Benamajoma.


Easter - Semana Santa or "Holy Week"

The Easter week processions compete with one another in luxury and splendour. The parades leave each of the town´s churches to wind slowly around the streets, with their lifelike statues of Christ on the Cross and his mother the Virgin Mary in mourning. The processions are organised by the religious brotherhoods, representing guilds of tradesmen or other groups. They spend all year long preparing the elaborate costumes and decorations. This is a serious fiesta and fireworks are not permitted. Drinking and celebrating is still frowned upon by many.

The most outstanding Easter week processions are those of the cities of Sevilla, Malaga and Cordoba and Granada, though the spectacle is worth seeing in any town or village. in particular, Estepona, Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera, Luque (Saturday), Baeza, Cabra, Jerez, Rio Gordo, Ubeda, Puente Genil, Huercal.

The processions take place during the week leading up to Easter Sunday. (April 20th 2003, April 11th 2004, March 27th 2005, April 16th 2006). The best days are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Saturday. Easter Sunday itself has less intensity generally. Exceptions being the towns of Castilleja de la Cuesta, Pillas, Coria del Rio, Almaden de la Plata, and Setenil.


Seville Spring Fair

The first of the summer fairs, festivities of the April Fair were born in Seville in 1847 and are a perfect expression of the Andalucian personality. Always two weeks after Easter Week.


May Horse Fair in Jerez de la Frontera

Jerez holds the Jerez May Horse Fair on the first week in May each year, a spectacular equestrian event, the Jerez Horse show takes place in the Gonzalez Hontoria Park. Some of the world's finest horses and riders compete in the endurance trials, coach driving, "pursuit and tumble" and dressage competitions. with a stunning display of the finest horses of the region.

May Crosses

May is a month of festivities in Cordoba, starting with the Crosses of May Festival (1st, 2nd and 3rd of May which is Santa Cruz day). The crosses identify distinct zones of the town which compete for the prize of the best florally decorated cross. The preparations take place secretly in the preceding months when women and children use this opportunity to sing and dance. In older times it was an excuse for young single people to meet. The event is organized by brotherhoods and financed by voluntary contributions in the neighbourhood. With the preparations made the crosses are dressed and the fiesta lasts various days. Representatives from each brotherhood act as judges to vote on the best dressed cross. The local tourist office will give you a map, as in Cordoba you may need help to find the crosses. Other village the dress crosses are Condado de Huelva, Sierra de Aracena, Andevalo, Almonaster la Real, Bonares, Ubrique.


Patio contests

The famous Cordoba Patio Contest (about 4th to 16th May), in which home-owners compete for the prize awarded to the most beautifully decorated patio. The map provided by the local Tourism Office will help you find the competing courtyards which are open to the public during the day. This one is not to be missed for those that like flowers and gardens or are just interested to look inside the patios of private houses.


San Lucar Manzanilla (Wine) Fair

A lively fair dedicated to the Manzanilla which is a special dry sherry wine produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This intense fair which is organised by the town council and supported by the local wine producers last for several days about the third week in May.


Rocío Pilgrimage

Andalucia is famous for its pilgrimages or "romerías" - so called because pilgrims traditionally walked to Rome, and therefore became known as "romeros" - to popular shrines, around which fiestas are held.

Many towns celebrate their Romaria to a local shrine a few miles away. It is a day in the countryside visiting a chapel or a sanctuary. Interestingly it is one of the few fiestas that are celebrated outside the nucleus of the town. The sanctuary is a physical and a spiritual point of reference. The departure from the town for the sanctuary is a proud public ceremony with all the necessary elements in a certain order. Flags and standards are carried by horsemen, decorated carts, men or women who are serving a pennance, then tractors, lorries and all sorts of agricultural vehicles. The municipal band usually provides the music. Perhaps the most spectacular is the one devoted to the Virgen del Rocío, popularly called "El Rocio" for short. Nearly a million people from all over Spain and Andalucia make long journey to gather in a small hamlet of El Rocio in the marshlands of the Guadalquivir River delta (south of Almonte), where the statue of the "Madonna of the Dew" has been worshipped since 1280. The pilgrims come on horseback and in gaily decorated covered wagons from all over the region, transforming the area into a colourful and noisy party. The climax of the festival is the weekend before Pentercost Monday (9th June 2003, 31 May 2004, 16 May 2005, 5 June 2006). In the early hours of the Monday the Virgin is brought out of the chrurch. This remarkable event is always televised.


Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi (the Catholic feast celebrating the presence of the body of Christ in the holy wafer) is held in June, beginning on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. A solemn and magnificent procession bears the consecrated host through the streets. Although Corpus Christi is celebrated everywhere in Andalucia, it is most famous in Granada, especially for the Granada Festival of Music and Dance, which supplants the passion plays that traditionally followed the religious rituals. Representatives of the local government walk side by side with the churchmen, followed by the people, along streets strewn with sweet-smelling cypress branches and flowers.

The Corpus Christi festival was created in 1246 in Liege, Belgium, and after the Archbishop of that town was elected Pope it was later adopted throughout Europe. It reached Toledo 1280 and in Sevilla 1282 and all Spain by XIV century. It was particularly popular in XVI and XVII centuries. The solemn processions represent the power of the church. The civil and military authorities also take part. All in their commemorative uniform, a colorful spectacle. and takes place in most town in Spain.

In Granada it lasts three days where is one of the most important of festivals in the towns calendar. Actually Corpus Christi is celebrated in most towns in Andalucia but of particular note are Zahara de la Sierra, Seville, Cadiz, Malaga, Casabermeja, Marchena, Torreperogil.


Early Summer Pilgrimages

The Madonna known as La Virgen de la Cabeza is enshrined in a forbidding sanctuary on a cliff overlooking the wild hills of the Sierra Morena, north of the city of Andújar in Jaen Province. The pilgrimage is celebrated on the last Sunday of April. This celebration has its origins in the 13th century, and some half a million people gather to see the Virgin paraded among the forests for over 30 kilometres.

Cabra Gypsy Festival, province of Córdoba by gypsies to the hermitage of Santa María.

San Isidro on 15th May. San Isidro is the patron saint of the farmers, and many villages celebrate his day with a procession through the fields and a fiesta, as well as agricultural trade shows. A fine place to attend this charming festival is the rural town of Montefrio, in Granada Province or Estepona. El Cristo del Paño The pilgrimage to the shrine of El Cristo del Paño, in the castle town of Moclin, in northern Granada Province, not far from Montefrio. This painting of Christ bearing the cross is believed to heal aged people of their cataracts (el paño, or the cloth, is the popular name for this condition, which "veils" one´s sight). Touching the painting is also supposed to make childless women fertile, and the miracle is mentioned in Lorca´s tragic play Barren.


Fishing towns

La Virgen del Mar (Virgin of the Sea) is the patron saint of Almería, and her statue is born on a carriage decorated with flowers to the hermitage dedicated to her. The most stirring moment of the procession is when she is taken from the lighthouse to the dock by boat.

La Virgen del Carmen is the protectress of seamen, and at the end of day on July 16th the towns and fishing villages of the coast parade their statues of her by the water, and set sail in gaily adorned boats, accompanied by the blowing of horns and bursts of fireworks in the night sky. A good place to see this fiesta is Estepona,also Marbella, and Benelmadena where the Virgen del Carmen is one of the town´s most beloved saints.

Saint John´s feast - San Juan - is held on the night of the 24th of June, and is celebrated on Andalucia´s beaches with bonfires and fireworks. For good luck, the tradition is to dip their feet in the sea just after midnight. Tread carefully as sometimes the lively ones end up in the sea fully clothed.


Town Patrons' Days

Each town has one or two patron saints. There will be a local bank holiday and celebrations on the day of the patron saint of the town according to the catholic calendar.


Grape Harvests

Grapes are harvested in late August and September, and the event, known as La Vendimia, is often accompanied by a fiesta. The most famous Vendimias are at Montilla near Cordoba,Vendimia de Jerez de la Frontera at La Palma del Condado, in the Province of Huelva, Manilva at the west of the Costa del Sol.



Moors and Christians

This festival is more popular in the East of Spain, in Andalucia in the provinces of Granada and Almeria, It takes place on different many days through out the year depending on the locality. San Sebastian on 20 January, San Roque 15 August, San Antonio on June 13th, as well as in Alfarnate from the 12th to the 16th of September. They also celebrate this festivity in Benalmádena from the 4th to 5th of August, and in Benadalid from the 27th to the 29th of August .

The origins are obviously the battles following the re-conquest on the XVI and XVII century. The usual format for the fiesta is first a procession of the Moors and the Christians, then a theatrical enactment of verbal attacks and rejections by both groups, a battle enactment with skirmishes and dances, the conversion or the death of the moors, and finally homage to the patron saint.

Nowadays with greater affluence the uniforms are more spectacular. The Christians wear the uniforms of the soldiers of the re-conquest. The moors wear basic short sleeved cotton jackets.





Winter Festivals


All Saints Day On November 1st, fiestas called "Tosantos" (contraction of "todos los santos", or "all saints") are celebrated in the markets of Cadiz and the surrounding villages.

The feast of San Martín, on 11th November, is the occasion for the slaughtering of pigs, in preparation for the winter-time drying of hams and sausages, at a fiesta called la matanza - literally, the killing - in all the towns and villages of the mountain areas of Andalucia. The day begins with the killing of the pigs and is spent butchering the carcass and stuffing sausages and black pudding. A great deal of eating and drinking accompanies these events.

Chrismas Eve is the quietest evening of the year in Andalucia. Even most of the bars are closed. An evening reserved for a family dinner.


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