Spain Traditions

By | November 5, 2021

Beyond the official veil of the political unity of the country, the various faces and different souls of Spain can be perfectly perceived in the great variety of folkloric phenomena, that is to say anthropolinguistic, cultural, socio-economic and political (regional autonomist forces). Roman Spain itself, in its “provincial” distribution, consecrated, on a geographical basis, the existence of five fundamental zones or areas: southern, eastern, northern, western and central. The southern area (in modern times essentially constituted by the region of Andalusia, with “appendages” in the south of Extremadura and in the west of Murcia), formerly populated by Turdetani, Turduli and Bastuli, welcomed the more or less deep and lasting influences of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Germans (Vandals and Visigoths), Byzantines, Jews and above all Arabs (more precisely, of the Moroccan Moors). Hence the persistence of ancient forms of exploitation of fertile land (large estates; vine and olive crops; cattle and equine farms), of typical forms of life and social stratifications (dwellings in caves and huts, but also in cortijos, large isolated farms, noble villas of the Pompeian type – with the classic patio – and prosperous urban nuclei, such as Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Jaén, Cáceres etc.; rich and cultured landowners and masses of servants and agricultural workers, with groups of marginalized and outlaws: slaves, bandoleros and, starting from the century. XV, Moorish and Gypsy) and consequent manifestations of popular and rural religiosity, superstitions, showy and emblematic cults (brotherhoods and pasos of Holy Week, innumerable shrines and pilgrimages, bullfights, whose origins are perhaps the Cretan cult of the bull, etc.), as well as peculiar linguistic characterizations (ceceo and seseo, lexicon rich in arabisms, metaphorical and hyperbolic baroqueisms) and a vast repertoire of artistic creations, culminating in the songs and dances of the extraordinary hondo or flamenco cante. The eastern or Mediterranean area, more or less coinciding in modern times with the Catalan linguistic area, saw the flourishing, alongside the primitive agricultural culture (but not of large estates) Ibero-Celtic, rich Greek commercial emporiums, inherited and later developed by Romans and Moors (remained in large numbers, the latter, even after the expulsion of 1609). But the contacts of the northern provinces (Catalonia proper) with Occitan France and Italy were also constant, starting from the time of Charlemagne. Hence, perhaps, the typical practical sense (seny) and the activism of Catalan speakers, who have made Barcelona the economic capital of the country. Their modernism is not, however, in contrast with a deep attachment to ancient customs, from the tenacious use of the language to religious cults (the Virgin Moreneta of Montserrat, Saint George and other patrons) and from dances – among which the classic sardana stands out., simple and solemn like a Greek dance – at folk festivals. The latter are distributed throughout the year and are characterized by their variety and originality. It begins on 17 January with the feast of Saint Anthony, on the occasion of which the priests bless domestic and farm animals. February 5 is instead the day of Saint Agatha, patroness of married women; in Zamarramala, near Segovia, the latter are granted the privileges and powers that belong to the mayor for the whole day.

Between the end of winter and the beginning of spring comes the great festival of fires: Las Fallas of St. Joseph in Valencia, in which papier-mâché sculptures are set on fire to signify the abandonment of old things and the rebirth of life. There are also numerous festivals that celebrate the Reconquista, such as the battles between the Moors and the Christians of Alcoi, particularly suggestive and spectacular. According to Thereligionfaqs, the April Feast is held in Seville, while in the following month in various parts of the country crucifixes are decorated with flowers (Los Mayos). Easter remains the main holiday of very religious Spain (although the Roman Catholic religion has ceased to be the state religion under the 1978 Constitution) and is greeted by the Palm Sunday processions, such as the one that takes place in Elche, which is particularly picturesque. During Holy Week men in cassocks, accompanied by figures in penitential robes with tall conical hats, hold up the pasos(sacred-themed sculptures) or heavy crosses, in majestic processions such as those of Seville, Murcia and Valladolid. Pentecost and Corpus Domini are also prominent religious celebrations, particularly felt in Valencia, Toledo and Granada, such as the feast of St. Peter (29 June), patron saint of fishermen, on the occasion of which boats are decorated in many ports. Famous all over the world for its particularity is the running of the bulls in Pamplona, ​​which takes place in July during Los Sanfermines and which inevitably ends with a number of injuries among the participants. After the Assumption, the autumn rites dedicated to the grape harvest (present only in the wine-growing areas) and those of commemoration of the dead, we reach the main Christmas festival: Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve. Families gather to wait for midnight mass (misa del gallo) and set up belenes, nativity scenes with painted terracotta figurines. On December 28, instead, is the Dia de los Inocentes, on the occasion of which jokes of all kinds are made, waiting for the Noche Vieja, or New Year’s Eve, greeted with noisy and prolonged celebrations. Ancient traditions survive, as well as in the numerous popular festivals, also in the houses (from the Catalan mas or masía to the Valencian barraca), in foods (paella, butifarra), in some garments (the “phrygia” barretina) and in a rich folk songbook. In the northern area the Basque Country (which also includes Navarre, a “Castilianized” region) and Asturias, which boast of being the first and oldest medieval Christian kingdom, stand out. Apart from the mystery of their origins and language, it is certain that the Basques, Christianized only starting from the century. IX and lived for a long time isolated in the mountains, they retain a solid family and rural structure (centered in the caserío or micro-village), remains of matriarchal juridical customs and of totemic and lunar cults, rooted superstitions (witchcraft), dances and masquerades of evident agricultural ritual reminiscences, a remarkable repertoire of songs and folk tales and spectacular rites, such as the famous pelota, the airikoteram wrestling, ax competitions, etc.

The residents of the coast have been skilled fishermen and sailors since time immemorial. The Asturian popular culture is also very rich, also of pastoral and agricultural origin, with a vast heritage of romances, dances such as the prima ballet and the corricorri and instruments such as the gaita de pellejo. In the west, Galicia stands out, an isolated and harsh region (the mini-fund dominates it and the resources are very limited), which in ancient times was however the center of a strong barbaric kingdom (the Swabian one) and in the Middle Ages it had a moment of openness and European fame thanks to the famous sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela, for which the local Romance language, later extended to Portugal, rose to the dignity of literary language. The Galicians preserve ancient customs and institutes, from the communal ownership of pastures to the horreo isolated on pylons, from the round hut (pallaza) to the vegetal waterproof hood (coroza). Their Celtic imaginations populate the land with ghosts of the deceased (Santa Compaña) and witchcraft; but their parties (including Mays), with music and dances (muiñeiras) accompanied by the bagpipe (gaita) and the drum, they also know how to be cheerful, although never separated from a background of melancholy. Finally, the central area includes the two Castles and Aragon, the pillars of Spanish political unity. Descendants of those Cantabrians and Celtibers who resisted the Romans so much (the epic ruins of Numantia still attest to this), the Castilians, individualists like their typical hero, the Cid Campeador, descended from the mountains (N of Burgos) to Gibraltar, in long centuries of struggle against the Moors, populating Spain with castles and hidalgos. In modern times, Old Castile (Soria, Ávila, Salamanca) is less populated and poorer than the fertile central regions (New Castile, where many descendants of the vanquished Moors remained) and southern ones, but retains areas of fascinating archaism, such as the Hurdes ( Salamanca), the upper Extremadura and the Maragatería (in the ancient kingdom of León), and very rooted agricultural and pastoral customs (transhumance), with dances, festivals (San Giovanni) and typical songs. The Montagna (province of Santander) is an interesting Castilian appendix, a real wedge inserted between the Basques and Asturians, on the Cantabrian coast.

Finally, in Aragon, two areas are clearly distinguishable: the high Pyrenean valleys, where archaic pastoral customs survive, and the fertile Ebro valley, a centuries-old route of communication and cultural exchange, well known to Romans and Arabs. Here stands the ancient capital, Zaragoza, with its famous sanctuary of the Madonna del Pilar, which has become the capital of a prosperous agricultural and industrial region. In the composite Aragonese folklore the famous stand out jota, a lively dance of probable Moorish origin, the dance, a colorful choreographic show, and the Maggi. Lastly, two island groups of high folkloric interest belong to Spain: the Mediterranean Balearics, where the archaic Ibiza stands out over the Catalan Mallorca and Minorca, and the Atlantic Canary, where before the Castilian conquest (end of the 15th century) the mysterious culture of the Guanches and where ancient customs survive, such as tajaraste and sirinoque dances and the “whistled” language of La Gomera, unique in the world. In each of these areas craftsmanship is flourishing and it will be enough to remember the enamels, the artificial pearls (the so-called “Majorcan pearls”), the swords and knives of Toledo with decorations in agemina, the brocades of Segovia, the silks of Granada, Alcatraz and Alpujarras carpets, musical instruments, especially stringed instruments, castanets, cymbals, embossed leather from Cordoba, mantillas and splendid fans. In Spain, meals are a moment of socialization and pleasure. § The cuisine, substantial and tasty, mixes the flavors (the Valencian paella is typical in this sense). Excellent are the Sierra ham (jamón serrano) and the chorizo, a very tasty sausage. Typical food is the cocido, similar to thearabic couscous. Other typical dishes are garlic soup, gazpacho (Andalusian soup), a kind of cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, chopped onions, garlic, bread, oil and vinegar. The merluza (hake) is cooked in countless ways. Typical are tapas, small snacks based on cold meats, cheese, seafood and vegetables. The queso manchego, sheep cheese from La Mancha, is the most famous of Spain. Numerous seafood dishes: gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns), mejillones (mussels) a la marineracalamares fritos(fried squid), fritura de pescado (mixed frying). Finally, in the typical Spanish meal, you cannot miss the tortilla, a kind of omelette, very thick and based on potatoes and onions. Among the drinks, the most popular is wine (riojajerezmálagamanzanares and alicante). Among spirits, the leading role is played by sangria, made with red wine and served with pieces of fruit.

Spain Traditions