A Festa Major (roughly translated as The Major Festival) is a sort of annual street party celebrated in most cities, neighbourhoods, towns and villages throughout Catalonia. Each one of them has its own festa major and it’s the most important celebration in the annual calendar.
You’ll find these quirky events around the world, as both big and small towns celebrate the unique traditions and occurrences that make their communities special. From the hamlets of rural North Carolina to the villages of France to the beaches of South Korea — festivals sure to leave you puzzled and delighted by local life. A festa major is in fact, the name given in Catalan to these type of events.
Typically a festa major commemorates an important event in the town or area’s history and tradition, such as its foundation. This can be both a celebration and a festivity, that is, a party in honor of a patron or patroness saint of the town and often, if the saint’s celebration date (as per the Roman Catholic church calendar) doesn’t fall in summer months, a second festa is celebrated in this season. Usually they last three days, often starting on a Friday although some major cities, due to their large population, celebrate a longer festa major. Note that in these cases, during week days, work carries business-as-usual, as most events happen in evening.
The festa major is the meeting point of the local community that meets annually around some common scenarios -ie. the main square, the church, etc.- to affirm their existence as a group with shared symbolic references. These festivals are held at least since the 13th century. It combines both religious and profane ceremonies (ie. religious sermons and processions, and parades, dances and other traditional art performances). Over the years, the profane ceremonies have really taken over the religious essence of the festivity and nowadays its role has substantially diminished turning the festa major in a civic festivity with plenty of entertainment for everybody and streets adorned with garlands. There are different displays of popular and traditional arts such as castellers, grallers (music), giants and big-heads, tabalers (music), sardanistes (dance) or diables (devils) and correfocs (fire-runs) among others. Many of them carry a strong symbolism rooted in old legends, beliefs and popular characters dating back several centuries.
When you visit Catalonia, don’t forget to check the different city or town councils’ websites in order to see when their festa major will be celebrated. It’s an event not to miss and a perfect opportunity to better understand their people and their traditions, and it’s certainly much better if you tag along some local folks and get them to explain you some of the meanings of the different performances.
In Barcelona, one of the most popular and well known is La Festa Major de Gràcia, celebrated annually in the Gràcia neighbourhood during mid August.
Catalog of festivities in Catalonia throughout the year – In Catalan only (use Google Translate!!!)
List of festivals declared of touristic interest
http://www.festacatalunya.cat/ -in Catalan only.
http://www.festiva.org/ -in Catalan only.
http://www.festes.org/ -in Catalan only.
IMPORTANT: Apologies for both the low quality and length of the video presented but we thought it was interesting nonetheless to illustrate this event. This is a one hour long video summarizing the different displays of music, dances and traditions during the Festa Major of the town of Valls located in the south of Catalonia, and famous also for its calçots. This is in fact a great all-in-one summary to show many of the popular and traditional arts mentioned above.
Video: © Els Gegants Som