7 wild festivals to discover the Spanish popular culture

Spain’s culture is reflected in many aspects of daily life. One of the most important and curious is its popular festivals. There is no best and funniest way to discover its culture other than through festivals, and the wide variety of them make it a great adventure when you travel to Spain. Many of them are battles, or perhaps people take to the streets to enjoy drums, music, and dance until the day ends. Anyway, all of them have something to offer to the visitor and sum up the culture of the region or village they are celebrated in.

Las Fallas or how Valencia attracts eyes from all over the world

fallas festivals

The mascletà is one of the most tyical images of Fallas. | Shutterstock

Every March, from the 15th to the 19th, Valencia smells like tradition, fireworks and art. Declared a festival of International Tourist Interest and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2016, this magical festival fills the streets. The most popular version of its origin is that, on March 19, the eve of their patron Saint Joseph, the carpenters of the city made bonfires in front of their workshops to burn old junk and leftover wood, and that way cleaned the workshop and celebrated the end of winter because days were starting to be longer.

This and other events such as the election of the most beautiful falla and the ‘fallera mayor’ (the queen of the festival), or the first ‘fallera’ week’s celebration, led to what we know today as Las Fallas. During this festival, the fallas -impressive monuments made of paper and wooden- stand around several huge figures, which can sometimes reach an impressive height of twenty meters. The ‘mascletà’, the fireworks displays and the popular participation have made this festival to enjoy a well-deserved fame all over the world. Its starting point is known as La Plantà, when the ‘falleros’ leave their monuments standing beautifully all over Valencia for the judge to decide which one will be the winner. The castles of fire star the rest of the week, giving way to the offering of flowers to the Virgin. Finally, La Cremà arrives, for most the most expected moment of the Fallas, when the sky turns red and yellow from the fire consuming the fallas.

Tomatina, when the people go to war with tomatoes as a weapon in Buñol


People throws tomatoes in La Tomatina. | Shutterstock

La Tomatina takes place in the province of Valencia, specifically in Buñol. This festival is literally a war of tomatoes where participants throw tomatoes at each other. It usually lasts one hour and is a tradition that has been carried out since 1944 and is celebrated on the last Wednesday of August, the week in which the rest of the festivities of this village are celebrated. It is said that it started when a riot arose and the government advisor was attacked with tomatoes. Apparently the people enjoyed this act of rebellion so much that the following year it was performed again and so on to the present day.

There are some rules, however, in order that participants do not harm other people. For example, they have to use smashed tomatoes and not regular ones. Also, the shot is heard, everyone must stop throwing tomatoes. Of course, everyone must follow the rules from the security staff. All this to keep security and to celebrate this festival without accidents. But with fun as the protagonist.

Concurs de Castells, which one will be the highest of Tarragona?

concurs de castells

People forming a human tower. | Shutterstock

The Concurs de Castells is celebrated in Tarragona every two years. It is a performance of the best human towers, or ‘castells’ of the country that takes place at the Tarraco Arena Plaça de Tarragona. One of the main attractions of the contest is that it is the only day of the whole season in which all the human towers or ‘castells’ receive a score according to their difficulty. This makes the top teams compete to achieve first place in the final classification.

Thousands of people participate as public the most important castle performance, which also enjoys a wide media coverage by the media. In short, the Concurs de Castells is a first class show and a magnificent opportunity to enjoy the ‘casteller’, a Catalan cultural exhibition declared cultural and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. One thing is for sure, watching this is a whole spectacle for the senses, and the perfect place to feel adrenaline.

The wine battle of La Rioja, where instead of drinking it, people bathes in it

wine battle festivals

People dressed in white in the wine battle of Haro. | Shutterstock

Yes, you read it right. In this festival, the people of Haro in La Rioja, throw wine at each other. Its origins date back to the 15th century, when the people from this beautiful town had the tradition of making a small pilgrimage to a cave where the remains of an important anchorite were found. Somewhere in between the process, the first wine baptisms began to take place. This way, the religious cult and the pagan festivity would come together.

Wine was used as ammunition, becoming the essence of the festival. People ate and drank together, sang and laughed all day. And as wine was never lacking in La Rioja, the tradition has arrived to the present day. One of the rules is that you cannot leave anyone without that purple color, so get dressed in white, and… let the battle begin!

El Cascamorras, a representation of a millennial struggle in Granada

el cascamorras festivals

The image of the people painted in black is the most typical of this celebration. | Shutterstock

With the firing of a firework and the beating of a drum begins this traditional and ancient festival of El Cascamorras, which in its origin dates back to the 15th century. This legendary tradition has it that after the Reconquest, a worker from Guadix (Granada) discovered in Baza the carving of the Virgin Mary and tried to take it to Guadix, but the local authorities did not allow it. Thus the dispute between Baza and Guadix for the image of this Virgin began, and the authorities of the time are those who finally settled that the image stays in Baza but Guadix can celebrate the festival. In Baza it is celebrated on September 6 and in the city of Guadix on September 9.

This ritual of ‘search and pursuit’ consists of El Cascamorras, escorted by a drummer and a retinue arrives from Guadix to Baza to take the image of the Virgin, the crowd awaits him with the intention of staining him, if he manages to get there without being stained he will have achieved his goal, to return the image to Guadix. El Cascamorras is a very dynamic festival, full of color, with great participation of the youth. And probably in the list of the scariest and weirdest festivals.

Tamborrada of San Sebastián, to the rhythm of drums

tamborrada festivals

People dressed up as cooks play drums all over the city. | Shutterstock

The Tamborrada is the most important festival in San Sebastián, and one of the funniest. The whole city gathers regardless of the cold or rain, usually seen in the north. More than 100 different bands form this magical festival and fill the city with the sound of drums. There is always a wide participation.

Its origins go back to the time of the War of Independence, when Napoleon’s troops invaded this city, and completely destroyed it in a fire. During the French occupation, women typically went to fetch water from one of the two fountains in the city. At the same time it was usual to see Napoleonic troops marching through the city beating their drums. Soon the women began to play their jars on their way to the fountain, as a mockery. Eventually, this defiant gesture kept growing and so did its meaning for the people of San Sebastián. The culinary societies are partly responsible for the success of this event. That is why many of the people who participate in the Tamborrada are dressed as cooks.

Flour Fight Festival, Ibi’s white battle

flour battle festivals

Both sides confront in a war of flour and eggs. | Shutterstock

‘Els Enfarinats’, in Valencian, is the name the people from Ibi, a small village of Alicante, give to this funny festival. The morning of 28 December, Spain’s Day of the Innocents, starts the flour war. But also the egg’s one. Yes, people throw eggs at each other apart from flour, an authentic food war. Its origins are not fully clear. With more than 200 years of history, this festival commemorates the biblical story of King Herod and the slaughter of the innocents.

On December 27th, well into the afternoon, the Amantats read different banners announcing the coming to power of the Enfarinats the next day. Already on the 28th in the morning at about 9 o’clock, the party begins. They face each other in order to win the power of Ibi. The Enfarinats that have taken the government of the village, and on the other hand the Opposition that does not agree. Both sides start throwing flour and eggs at each other in what becomes a crazy battle.

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