Feeling like a little January pick-me-up? Spain in January will do the job nicely! With so many cheap flights to Spain available and the country being relatively quieter for tourists, January’s a great time to visit. More importantly, Spain is still in celebratory mode with various fiestas taking place during the first month of the year.
Although lesser known than some of Spain’s other fiestas, they offer a great chance to experience Spain’s older traditions. You’re also likely to see a Spain that your average tourist doesn’t get to see. And as with any good Spanish fiesta you can also expect food, drink, music and dancing!
In this post, we look at a few of them…
Santa is so last year. Bring on the Three Kings
Christmas basically continues into the first week of January in Spain. It culminates on 6 January with the Dia de Los Reyes (Day of the Kings). In the Christian calendar, the Dia de Los Reyes celebrates the arrival of the three kings who came bearing gifts for baby Jesus. It’s a massive event in Spain. This is especially the case for children as the three kings’ arrival also means the arrival of their presents. Spanish children can count themselves particularly lucky with Santa getting increasingly popular too.
If you’re in Spain in the first week of January, you’ll likely find locals still enjoying Christmas festivities. The main event, however, usually takes place on 5 January where people head to the streets for a procession to celebrate the kings.
Processions will be taking place throughout the country but you’ll find the biggest celebrations in the bigger cities. Just check with tourist information or with your hotel (you could also just ask a local…) about festivities for details where you are. Expect lots and lots of sweets galore as processions often involve sugary treats being thrown over to eager children – adults too if you’re quick enough!
Fiesta de San Antón on 16 and 17 January
Another day and another fiesta – this time to St Antony Abad (or more typically, San Antón) who is the protector of animals. San Antón’s official fiesta date is 16 or 17 January but as with lots of Spanish fiestas, celebrations generally begin a few days earlier and finish a few days later so can go on for a week. The main events are likely to be on the weekends or on the 17th.
San Antón also has something else in common with other Spanish fiestas in featuring traditions that don’t very obviously connect to its history. For example, in Mallorca and other cities around the country (most typically in Andalucia, Castile-La Mancha and Valencia) big bonfires are lit (which, to me, doesn’t seem to be the most ideal conditions for the animals this particular saint is a patron for). In the town of San Bartolmé de Pinares, 100 kms west of Madrid, they go further in bringing the animals link to the bonfire as riders and horses (doused in water beforehand) ride through or really very close to big bonfires. The smoke of the fires are meant to purify the animals for the next year. Organisers insist that the animals and riders are not hurt.
Another feature of celebrations in Mallorca (you’ll need to go Pollença in the north of the island) involves a greased pole with people competing to climb to the top to collect the prize winnings placed there. I saw a similar event in Nicaragua for their Fiesta de Cangrejo (celebrating the crab) and it’s definitely a fun spectacle to witness. The other Balearic Islands, Ibiza and Menorca are also good places to find San Antón celebrations.
Sant Sebastia in Palma de Mallorca
Mallorca is definitely the island to be in for celebrations in January as events take place to honour Sant Sebastia, the island’s patron saint. There will be concerts, fireworks and barbecues galore.
Festivities usually begin with a procession of giant papier mache characters from the past. It ends in Plaza Major where there will be folk music and traditional dancing. Most of the action takes place in the evenings as bands takeover various stages around the city. And in another custom, people dressed as devils and demons run and dance through the streets with fireworks and sparklers.
If you’re there for it, do as the locals do… Dance in the streets, drink the local gin and eat from the many barbecues. Lots of people bring their own food to cook on communal barbecues too. You can do the same – just pick up some sausages in the supermarket and you’re sorted! Celebrations usually take place from 18 to 24 January.
Hear the sound of drumming at La Tamborrada, San Sebastian
Head over to San Sebastian in the Basque country for 19 and 20 January for La Tamborrada. You’ll likely hear the sound of drumming. Lots and lots of drumming! Starting at midnight on Saturday night (or Sunday morning depending on how you’re looking at it), once the city’s flag is raided in Plaza de Constitution, the drummers start. Drummers are dressed in military gear and in traditional costume and continue for 24 hours straight! There are changing groups of drummers including groups of school children during the day so those taking part do get a break. It’s quite possibly the biggest and loudest jam session in the world.
Enjoy the music and the spectacle. But if you want to sleep at all that night, you might want to opt to stay away from the old town… San Sebastian is also just a beautiful city to spend a few days or more in. When there’s not drumming, head to the beach and listen to the waves of the Atlantic ocean.
You can reach San Sebastian easily with a car hire from Bilbao Airport.
Madrid for foodies – the Gastrofestival
For two weeks at the end of January and beginning of February, the capital hosts an annual food festival. The Gastrofestival features tasting sessions, food tours and exhibitions dedicated to gastronomy. Diners will also be able to enjoy eating out at top restaurants that will be putting up special menus for €25 and €40 during the two weeks. Visit: www.esmadrid.com/gastrofestival for more information ad to plan your Madrid foodie trip.