EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
The Carnival of Cádiz is one of the best-known carnivals in the world. The whole city participates in the carnival for more than two weeks each year, and the presence of this fiesta is almost constant in the city because of the rehearsals, recitals, and contests held throughout the year. It is a widely-held opinion that the city of Cádiz is blessed with the wittiest people in Spain, so it is not surprising that the main characteristics of the carnival in Cádiz are the acerbic criticisms, the droll plays on words, stinging sarcasm, and the irreverence of parody. While some carnivals, elsewhere in the world, stress the spectacular, the glamorous, or the scandalous in costumes, Cádiz distinguishes itself with the sheer cleverness and fertile imagination of its carnival attire. It is traditional to paint the face as a humble substitute for a mask. It is easy to get involved in the fiesta even if one is a visitor and knows no Spanish. On Saturday, everyone wears a costume, which, many times, is related to the most polemical aspects of the news. However, the Carnival of Cádiz is most famous for the satirical groups of performers called chirigotas. Their music and their lyrics are at the center of the carnival.
Holy Week (Semana Santa) normally takes place in March, and occasionally in April. The Passion of Christ, or Easter Week, known in Spain as Semana Santa is the most important celebration in the country. The festivities begin with the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and end with Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday). It is a celebration of life itself and the whole country comes alive. The Catholic Church in Spain is passionate about Easter celebrations.
The Seville Spring Fair, La Feria de abril de Sevilla, is held in the Andalusian capital of Seville, Spain. The fair generally begins two weeks after the Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week. The fair officially begins at midnight on Monday, and runs six days, ending on the following Sunday. During past fairs, however, many activities have begun on the Saturday prior to the official opening. Each day the fiesta begins with the parade of carriages and riders, at midday, carrying Seville’s leading citizens which make their way to the bullring, La Real Maestranza, where the bullfighters and breeders meet. For the duration of the fair, the fairgrounds and a vast area on the far bank of the Guadalquivir River are totally covered in rows of casetas (individual decorated marquee tents which are temporarily built on the fairground). Some of these casetas belong to the prominent families of Seville, some to groups of friends, clubs, trade associations or political parties. From around nine at night until six or seven the following morning, at first in the streets and later only within each caseta, you will find crowds partying and dancing “Sevillanas”, drinking Jerez sherry, or manzanilla wine, and eating tapas.
The Jerez Horse Fair (Feria de Caballo) is an exciting and lively event that brings the entire city to the Gonzalo Hontoria Fairgrounds, which cover 52,000 square metres, giving ample space for the finest horses of Jerez as synonymous with the city as sherry and flamenco, to show off their moves to the crowds who flock to the casetas which, unlike Seville’s, are open to the public, and other attractions. The history of the Jerez Horse Fair goes back over 500 years, to the commercial livestock fairs that were established in April and September, in the time when Jerez was just a small town back during the reign of Alfonso X El Sabio (the Wise). In May the Spanish Moto Grand Prix normally also takes place in Jerez, attracting bikers from all over Europe, with enormous crowds to the city centre and the province in general.
July is the most important month for bullfighting in El Puerto Santa María.
Bullfighting in El Puerto de Santa María, is one of the strongest and deeply rooted traditions in Spain. El Puerto de Santa Maria has an old prestige for bullfights. Already before the times of Pepe Hillo or Pedro Romero from Ronda, it had well rooted its fame for bullfighting in the city: the old bullring in Galeras Square which replaced the older one of scaffoldings in Polvorista Square and that was an advance of wooden bullrings in the same place where today we find the stone, iron and brick bullring, built at the end of the 19th century; one of the most beautiful bullrings in all of Spain.
The building is a regular polygon of 60 sides, with a diameter of 99.8 metres; this surface area is distributed as follows; an external gallery, above a second and third gallery where the royal and the presidential boxes are found and the covered stands, also the 16 stone seated sections known as “Tendidos”; it has a capacity for over twelve thousand people. The arena is 60 meters in diameter, one of the widest that exists. It is separated from the public by a two meter alley with a barrier. The management of its construction was carried out by the “Bullring Company”, presided over by D. Tomás Osborne and Bölh de Faber, descendant of the family of “Fernán-Caballero” the illustrious writer. To mark the centenary celebrations of the bullring, another ceramic tile was placed in front of the one that reminds us of the unforgettable sentence of Joselito “El Gallito”. It was inaugurated on the 5th and 6th of June 1880 with two bullfights in which Antonio Carmona Gordito, of Seville, and the Cordovan Rafael Molina Lagartijo, fought bulls from the ranch of Anastasio Martín and of Saltillo. ” Bordador “, was the name of the first bull that was fought in the bullring, and its crowned head can still be seen in the Reception Room.
Sanlucar de Barrameda, neighbouring city of Jerez, is famous for its horse racing which dates back to 1845 and takes place along a 1,800m stretch of beach at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir during the month of August, daily from 6.00 pm, on the 2nd and 4th weekends of the month (Thursday to Sunday). This is a thrilling spectacle where real racehorses thunder across the sand watched by a large noisy crowd of spectators. There is nothing amateur about this event and you can expect to see spectator stands, bookmakers, paddocks and of course the winners enclosure. Now an international event with horses from other European countries taking part and many famous names amongst the spectators.
Jerez’s sherry festival takes place on the first Saturday of September every year. Known locally as the Autumn Fiestas, Fiestas de Otoño, this is a three week party involving sherry, horses and flamenco. The origin of the festival is the annual celebration of the grape harvest. The festivities kick off with a flying start as the Andalusian -usually eye-catching – queen of the vintage occupies her seat of honour with her handmaidens in tow. This queen of sherry, responsible for every auntie’s favourite aperitif, is raised onto her glorious wagon draped with all manner of pleats, flora and succulent grapes. Within a very short time children tail the cart, hoping to catch sweets and goodies tossed into the air from mask-wearing courtiers. The masses converge on the Plaza de Arenal to pay further respects to the queen as the bodegas (sherry houses) let the sherry flow.
Zambombas and flamenco christmas celebrations
The zambomba is a Christmas gathering of people in the shape of a circle (relatives, neighbors, friends) that sings typical flamenco Christmas carols. Its name comes from the typical Christmas instrument called the zambomba, which marks the beat. The zambomba appears mainly in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) where it is said to have originated, but in time it has spread to other Andalusian towns. You will find them all over Jerez during the month of December. The earliest known collections of these songs date from the XV and XVI centuries. Apparently in Jerez de la Frontera zambombas were organized from the XVIII century onwards. These were simply gatherings of friends, neighbours, and relatives who met each year on Christmas eve in the patios and corrals of communal dwelling-places and farm labourers’ quarters. Huddled round a campfire they would form a chorus and sing and dance villancicos, in a purely spontaneous manner and for an indefinite time, while the wine, anisette, and punch flowed freely and Christmas sweets were passed out. The basic instrument is the zambomba, hence the name of the celebration. These zambombas are usually the work of an artesan, being a clay vessel covered with animal skin – usually goat – or some sort of thin material. In the center of the covering a long cane is secured which produces a deep sound when rubbed with the hand and this is what forms the rhythmic basis for the villancicos.
In the Zambomba there is a fundamental difference in contrast to the rest of flamenco fiestas, since it is a celebration with a strong element of participation. While in other fiestas there is a clear separation between the participants – singers, guitarists, and dancers – in the Zambombas everyone joins in singing or playing some instrument. In this way the individualistic nature of cante flamenco is lost, becoming a choral type of singing with a flamenco sound. “It is this difference that has caused villancicos to sound so flamenco, to the extent that many aficionados believe that villancicos are in the process of becoming another flamenco form, as occurred with the saeta” according to some.