Fiestas in Andalucia mean PARTY TIME. Whatever the reason behind the event, be it religious or otherwise, the end result is always the same – lots of music and dancing, drinking and eating and general fun and frolics usually until dawn over a period of several days to a week. Over 3,000 fiestas are celebrated every year in Andalucia including fairs, carnivals, degustacions, passion plays, pilgrimages and processions. Every village, no matter how small, holds at least one fiesta a year.
On this page we provide a timetable for the main festivals and some information about the largest.
Jump straight to Carnival / Romerias / Easter Week / Virgen del Carmen / San Isidro / San Juan / Summer Fairs / San Miguel / Autumn Fairs / All Saints Day / San Martin / Navidad (Christmas) / Fiesta Mayor de Verdiales / Noche Vieja / Fiesta de los Reyes
|14 Jan||Sat||San Anton||Canillas de Albaida, Nerja, Salares and Sedella|
|20 Jan||Fri||San Sebastian||Alcaucin, Algarrobo, Benamargosa, Competa and Frigiliana|
|Feb||Carnival||Pre-lent events and parades throughout the period in different towns|
|20 May||Sat||Noche Blanca||National|
|26 May||Fri||San Isidro||Alfarnate, Alfarnatejo, Benamocarra, Comares, Nerja & Periana|
|24 Jun||Sat||San Juan||National|
|15 Aug||Tue||Noche del Vino||Competa|
|16 Jul||Sun||Virgen del Carmen||Benajarafe, Caleta de Velez, Nerja, Rincon de la Victoria, Torre del Mar & Torrox Costa|
Carnival is celebrated before the 40 days of Lent each year, centred around Shrove Tuesday. Most towns hold a parade with floats and a Carnival Queen contest, either the weekend before or after, and large towns have festivities lasting all week. People dress up in costume and masks and up to a week of festivities including street music, dances and competitions are held.
Carnival is very much a fiesta of the people. As elsewhere in the Catholic world, it originated as a reaction against abstentations and prohibitions. Carnival attempts to break social order and liberalise instincts, helped by wearing masks and fancy dress. During the Civil War, General Franco abolished carnival in rebel areas.
Semana Santa (Easter), Malaga
Semana Santa is celebrated during the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Easter Monday, although a Bank Holiday in many countries including Gibraltar, is not celebrated in Spain.
Easter week processions compete with each other for splendour. Parades leave town churches to wend slowly through the streets carrying statues of Christ on the cross and the Virgin Mary in mourning. Religious brotherhoods (Hermandades) representing guilds of tradesman, in elaborate robes often with high pointed cowls covering their faces, carry the very heavy statues with a slow rocking gait accompanied by drum beat, incense and candles. The Costa towns and villages are full of pageantry and music whilst Malaga, famous for the size and grandeur of its processions, virtually comes to a standstill and is one of the best places to observe these rites. Apart from parading through the streets of their towns, the local brotherhoods hold exhibitions of their paraphernalia and possessions.
In some towns and villages passion plays are enacted at this time. Within Axarquia Moclinejo holds a passion play on Good Friday, and Riogordo holds a series of these plays throughout the week.
The name for these local pilgrimages is derived from the traditional walk to Rome. These days the pilgrimages to popular shrines are a very colourful and lively procession on foot, by gaily decorated cart and wagon and on horseback. On reaching the shrine, and often proceeded by those who have travelled by car, a huge fiesta is held. Dates vary by town.
Virgen del Carmen
The fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen, the protectress of seamen, is held on the 16th July. In the evening, each town and village on the coast parades their statue of the virgin by the sea before placing her on a boat for a night sail. The boat is brightly decorated and accompanied by other gay fishing and leisure craft, blowing their horns, during her annual adventure. On her return she is paraded once more along the seafront whilst firework displays light the skies. Within Axarquia good places to view, and accompany if wished, are at Nerja, Caleta de Velez (just outside of Torre del Mar) and Benajarafe. Estepona also puts on a good show.
The fair of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers, is held on the 15th May. Isodor was an 11th century ploughman famous for his gift of divining water. Romerias often pass through fields, and fiestas incorporate agricultural tradeshows. One of the best in Axarquia is held in Nerja where the procession leaves from the town and winds it way to a hermitage at the Nerja caves for an enormously popular fiesta that began with fireworks on the evening of the 14th.
The feast of San Juan is on the 24th June but celebrations are held leading up to and on the night of the 23rd June, coinciding with the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year and midsummer. It is associated with fire and magic and has clear pagan origins. It is celebrated on the beaches with huge bonfires, barbeques (particularly moragas – a sardine barbeque), fireworks and campouts. For good luck, people paddle or swim in the sea just after midnight. An old ritual, still adhered to, is to wash the face and feet three times in order to be granted three wishes and for a happy twelve months thereafter. Bathing at this time is also said to be beneficial for skin complaints. Traditionally the Spanish did not visit the beach until this day in each year.
The fiesta of San Miguel, incorporating cattle fairs, is held on the 29th September. Within Axarquia these are held at Alfarnatejo and Velez-Malaga.
Every town and village in Andalucia has its own summer fair. These can take place at any time after Easter until October. Even a ‘day’ fair can last a week with all local shops, businesses and streets closed. Tables and chairs are set up in the streets and music plays from every corner. People of all ages join the singing, dancing and revelry. Traditional fairgrounds with rides for children are set up on the outskirts of the town and, along with live music shows, will be open until the very wee hours of the morning. The dates for each town do move a few days but they tend to stick to a pattern such as the 3rd weekedn in July. Check town hall websites for the dates.
Feria de Malaga, An example of a larger summer fair is the Feria de Malaga. This annual nine day August fair is launched by a huge fireworks display on the opening Friday. From late morning until about 19.00h, celebrations overwhelm the city centre with music and dancing in the packed streets and bars, whilst horses and riders in costume parade around the streets. At night the action switches to the very large feria site at Cortijo de Torres, 4 kilometres south-west of the centre. Here there are fairground rides and a lot more music and dancing with live groups performing rock, pop, reggae, flamenco and other music until dawn.
Vendimias (grape harvests) are celebrated during late August and September. The event is often accompanied by a fiesta. Competa hosts a ‘Noche del Vino (Night of Wine)’ every August 15th.
All Saints Day
All Saints Day is celebrated on the 1st November with fiestas called Tosantos. Prior to the festivities, cemeteries are packed with families paying homage to their dead.
The feast of San Martin is held in mountain villages and towns on the 11th November with fiestas called matanzas. It is a time for slaughtering pigs in preparation for winter drying of hams, sausages and black pudding. The feast does indeed include a lot of eating and drinking. An annual fiesta in Canillas de Acietuno in April each year, at which time the black pudding is ready, is also celebrated.
Las Navidades (Christmas) of course commences with La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). It is celebrated as a family feast and midnight mass. After leaving church, children let off bangers and people sing carols in rowdy tours around the streets. Crude percussion instruments (zambombas), unique to Christmas, are played. These instruments are made from flower pots with goat skin stretched over the top and a hole punched through. A wetted stick is rubbed up and down through the hole making a sound reminiscent of a tuba. Traditionally children waited until Los Reyes for their presents but, as customs change, they now hope for presents on both occasions. This is an important holiday in Andalucai so although bars adn restaurants will be open until late afternoon expect most places to close for the evening as everyone goes home for family meals. Christmas Day is nothing special for the Spanish, restaurnts reopen and prices are no higher than any other day.
Fiesta Mayor de Verdiales
The Fiesta Mayor de Verdiales is held every 28th December in Malaga. Thousands gather at Puerto de la Torre at the north-west of the city to dance and listen to a grand gathering of verdiales groups. This is an exhilarating type of folk music and dance, unique to the Malaga area, but sounding similar to Celtic/Gypsy music.
Noche Vieja (New Year)
La Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve) on the 31st December is celebrated with a feast, either out in a restaurant or luxury home fare. At midnight twelve lucky grapes (las uvas de la Suerte) are eaten, one by one, for each chime. To manage this means a lucky year. The grapes are washed down by Cava, the Spanish equivalent of Champagne, and celebrations continue until daylight. This often takes place in public squares with people coming from their homes or local bars to celebrate together.
Fiesta de los Reyes
The Fiesta de los Reyes, the fiesta of kings, is held on the 6th January and is the official time for Spanish children to receive their Christmas presents. Three men dress as kings to parade the streets on mule or horse back scattering sweets to excited children. The effect of this date of celebration means that the Christmas period in Spain is a long one lasting from Christmas Eve, through Cristmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day to the 6th January.