If you are lucky enough to take part in a festival in a nearby city, you’ll get an even more lively and intense cultural experience! This will be invaluable and unforgettable for kids who want to learn more about what it really means to be Spanish.
From the sombre Semana Santa celebrated throughout Spain to the triumphant Feria del Caballo in Jerez, we’re lucky to have some of Spain’s best festivals close-by to El Puerto!
Semana Santa (Holy week, leading up to Easter Sunday)
The first thing to understand about religious festivals in Spain is that Catholicism is a huge part of Spanish culture – throughout the year there are public holidays where shops, schools and businesses shut for religious occasions. These festivals are very inclusive – you don’t have to be a Catholic to celebrate or appreciate the remarkable displays, and they are a valuable cultural experience for all learners of Spanish.
This is especially true for Semana Santa (Holy Week), which is celebrated all over Spain with religious parades attracting hordes of people onto the streets to watch.
The ginormous ‘pasos‘ (religious floats) which pass through the streets are religious statues which depict a part of the Easter story. During the year, they are kept in the churches – when Holy Week comes around, they are carried to the Cathedral, pass through, and then make their way back. The processions can last up to 12 hours.
Those who carry the floats are called ‘costaleros’ and are members of their church’s brotherhood to show their religious devotion – they also practise carrying the incredibly heavy ‘pasos’ all year round in preparation for Easter. They see their task of carrying the floats as an act of penance which can absolve them of their sins.
Did you know? – During Semana Santa in Seville a special ward opens up specifically to treat injuries of the ‘costaleros’ – the people who carry the floats!
Since it is celebrated all over Spain, you will be able to watch the parades in El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz or any nearby city. Seville is famous for having some of the most impressive parades at this time, although it can be hard to find space to watch as the streets are chock-a-block with spectators!
Carnaval in Cádiz (February or March)
Although it’s widely celebrated, the Carnaval in Cádiz has a reputation for being the best in the whole of Spain. It dates back to the 17th Century and is one of the most important festivals in Spain.
It lasts for 10 days, and involves fancy dress, floats which pass through the town and a singing competition. The singing groups who compete in the theatre fall into four categories: chirigotas which use humour and satire, coros which are larger choirs of around 30 people, comparsas which perform serious, critical songs, and cuartetos, singing quartets who perform improvised comic scenes.
Spectators would need quite a high level of Spanish to appreciate the wit and cultural references employed by the singing groups and for this reason we wouldn’t recommend taking students to watch the groups performing in the theatre. However, there are also groups who take to the streets to sing, and so you’ll still be able to get a taste of the singing performances whilst you take in the colour and creativity that is Carnaval!
Feria de abril in Seville (April or May)
Feria (fair) is celebrated primarily in the South of Spain, and strikes a contrast with the more solemn celebrations of Semana Santa, which will have passed two weeks before. Each town or city has its own version, and Seville’s one is called ‘Feria de abril’ – the April fair. It began as a livestock fair in 1847 but gradually transformed into a more and more joyful occasion.
To kick off the celebrations each day , there is a midday horses parade of carriages and riders (dressed in finery) through the streets which heads towards the bullring. Masses of large, brightly coloured tents called ‘casetas‘ are set up. Some of the dancing and celebration takes place inside these tents, although in Seville many of them are privately hired.
Outside of the tents there are food and drink stalls and fairground attractions which combine with the ‘trajes de flamenco‘ worn by many of the women to make this an extremely colourful spectacle. Food typically eaten at Feria is Spanish-style fast food including, fried fish, churros and buñuelos (Spanish doughnuts).
Feria del caballo in Jerez (May)
This celebration exists to celebrate one of the most important assets of Jerez – its horses! The breed known as the Andalusian horse is one of the finest breeds in the world! However, it originates from the time of Alfonso X in the medieval ages, when, for one week, farmers would gather together to trade animals (mostly horses) and would also celebrate these deals.
To show off their handsome horses, riders make their way through the fairground on horseback, wearing traditional riding attire.
Just like the Feria in Seville, which takes place a week beforehand, the Feria del caballo also sees fairground rides and tents being erected. However, in contrast to the mostly privately hired casetas (tents) found in Seville, here there is a more inclusive feel, a anyone can enter most of the tents.
Feria de Primavera y Fiesta del Vino Fino in El Puerto de Santa María (April)
This is el Puerto’s own version of the Feria, usually beginning on the last Wednesday of April. Unlike in Seville, the ‘casetas‘ (tents) at this fair are open to everyone, meaning that you can go in and celebrate amongst the Spaniards!
Here you’ll witness different aspects of the culture; local women wearing traditional flamenco dresses, Andalusian ‘sevillana‘ music and dance, and typical dishes of the area. It’s not just professional dancers displaying their skills – the Feria is a celebration which everyone gets involved in, and to participate is really the best way to understand the pride that Andalusians have in their own culture!
The types of food you are likely to find at our local Feria are the classic ‘tortilla española‘ (Spanish omlette), ‘pescaíto frito‘ (fried fish) and other seafood, churros with chocolate and much more!