Having spent a substantial amount of time in Spain – including one uninterrupted period of fourteen months – I have witnessed firsthand how the Spanish celebrate their seasons, and it is something of a no-holds-barred experience. Simply put, the Spanish don’t mess around when it comes to holiday festivities. Whether we’re talking about holidays like Christmas or Easter or holiday as in summer vacations, they know how to have a good time.
So if you find yourself in Spain, be prepared for unrelenting excitement (or unrelenting relaxation) befitting the circumstance.
Here’s what to expect from each season.
Spring – To put it simply, Spring is a big deal in Spain. Sometimes it feels like an endless string of parades and fiestas. Perhaps the largest and more renowned is Semana Santa, also knowns as Holy Week.
For the week leading up to Easter, the omnipresent Catholics (and everyone else, really) take over the streets with parade after parade. Day in and day out you’ll hear music, shouting, fireworks, and occasionally cannons as elaborately dressed religious brotherhoods carry ornate and sometimes massive floats about on their shoulders.
Where I lived, in Granada, this all culminates with the Night of the 33 Virgins. The local Catholic order spends all night parading its statue of the Virgin Mary through the backstreets of town, brass band at the head of each procession, sometimes crossing paths in a chaos of music and color.
This is just one of many spring celebrations. There’s also Carnival, and a slew of regional festivities, depending on where you happen to be. How do you best enjoy all of the action? Grab a friend and join in the procession.
Summer – Once the weather gets hot, there are still plenty of holidays – Assumption Day perhaps being the season’s most pronounced – but the heat tends to discourage elaborate outdoor fiestas.
Summer is a time for going to the beach, for sitting someplace cool and enjoying ca cold beverage. I was once asked by a neighbor where I was going for August, and he was incredulous when I told him that I would just be staying in Granada. “You’ll be the only one here,” he said. “Everyone else will be at the beach.”
And he was right – the city became much quieter in the heat. People fled to the coast and those who stayed mostly spent their time sitting in misted outdoor terraces.
My recommendation if you end up in Spain during the summer heat – find water, find shade, and find a good book.
Fall and Winter – These two seasons tend to blend. Once summer ends, the entire country seems to spend the subsequent months preparing for the explosion of festivity that surrounds Christmas.
There are a number of holidays that lead up to it – the birthday of the Virgin Mary (she’s a pretty big deal around those parts), Columbus Day, Halloween (which only garners moderate participation), All Saints Day, Constitution Day, Immaculate Conception Day, and then – like an explosion – Christmas.
The days leading up to Christmas are electric, and not only because most cities and towns become densely decorated with elaborate lights and ornaments. Every time you go outside, there seems to be some procession – small or large – passing by. The actual day of Christmas is rather quiet as people gather with family.
Then a few days later – New Year’s Eve. Everything is crazy again. Throughout most of Spain the tradition is that you gather in the town square, and for each of the twelve seconds leading up to midnight you eat a grape (for reasons that were never sufficiently explained). From there, the party runs through January 2nd when the whole country finally puts itself to bed and sleeps it off.
As in most places, winter in Spain is a time of food, drink, family, and friends, although it’s a bit more of an outdoor endeavor, even through the cold. And yes, Spain gets cold.
So, to recap:
• Spring – Parades for days.
• Summer – Sit and relax.
• Christmas – Again with the parades.
Regardless of the season, that doesn’t seem like a terrible way to spend your time, does it?
Written by Nick Hilden