Everybody loves a day off, but Spaniards do so with incomparable ferocity. The Spanish calendar is so condensed with festivals one can almost feel it physically heavy, and when there is a celebration, the festive spirit is so palpable one can see it lurking behind every corner and escaping hot paellas in the form of steam.
Las Fallas, for example, is held annually in the streets of gorgeous Valencia. Delicious food, intense dancing and the general hustle and bustle of any celebration are the defining features of this festival as well. Or so I have heard, as I was too busy with essays and exams to actually make it to Valencia on this occasion (the upside is that I have a good excuse to come back one day). What distinguishes the festival is the collection of large paper-mache constructions and ninots (dolls) that are set on fire as the highlight of the celebration. The history of the ritual goes centuries back, but, as a lover of contemporary history, I found more interesting the origins of its transformations during the 20th century. During the Spanish Civil War the dolls would often be very anti-clerical or charged with strong political sentiments, but the Franco era would put this to an end and silence the discontent of their creators for more than 35 years. With the restoration of democracy, however, the dolls could once again be as satirical and loud as the political circumstances at home and around the world called for.
Now let me get to a festival I actually went to – Las Fiestas del Pillar, held in the beautiful city of Zaragoza. I cannot remember the last time I have seen so many people gathered in one place! The main street was buzzing with music and laughter; street musicians from all over the world were performing on every corner and street vendors were summoning the party-goers to try the various beauties and yummies they were offering.
I still find it difficult to pinpoint the highlight of the night. Would that be the concert in front of the cathedral (how often do you get to party with thousands of people in the embrace of a centuries-old gorgeous building?) or the first time I ever saw a live performance of flamenco?
Going to the festival was also an amazing experience for me because, maybe for the first time in Spain, I truly felt at home. Long story short: I randomly ran into a group of people I knew (the feeling of which is always awesome), went to explore the city with them and got lost on the way back to my original group of friends without getting scared. Just me, a tiny human among thousands of other people I might or might not have known who, at this moment of exhilaration, felt like nothing but close friends.