Nick Butcher on Fiestas and Foods of Spain.
 Nacimiento de la Virgen



Nacimiento de la Virgen

On December 8th each year, Spain celebrates one of its national holidays, the Immaculate Conception. This was the day when Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb, without the stain of original sin. Nine months later to the day, on September 8th, towns and villages all over Spain celebrate fiestas in honour of her birth, el Nacimiento de la Virgen, and Maro is among them with its annual fair in honour of its patron, Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, Our Lady of Wonders.

maro statue

There will be the usual goings-on for such occasions: a Mass in honour of the town’s patron saint, a procession through the streets, fireworks, fairground rides, music, dancing, and plenty of food and wine to help things along, and it’s been that way for as long as anyone can remember

Elsewhere, the Virgin has a whole stack of names on this day: in Málaga she is Santa María de la Victoria, Saint Mary of Victory, and is the city’s patron. But she may also be Our Lady of the Castle, of the Crown, of Light, of the Chestnut Grove, of Mercy, of the Melons even... there is a very long list, just as there was for the Assumption back in August and many other days. The belief in the influence of Mary’s powers is very deep-rooted in Spain.

Doubters will raise all sorts of objections. What evidence do you have, they will ask, that Mary was born on this day? There’s nothing in the Bible (there’s very little about Mary, full stop); all you have to go on is a story from some apocryphal book, written by someone who wasn’t there, in the second century. Whatever, comes back the answer, it’s a good story.

And the story, as told by somebody claiming to be Saint James, goes as follows. A couple called Joachim and Anna had been married twenty years, yet had not been blessed with children. birth virginJoachim was a wealthy sheep farmer who gave regularly to the poor, but this did not avert the disgrace and shame of reaching old age without offspring. So he went off into the desert, did forty days of penance, received a visit from an angel. Anna meanwhile prayed fervently and finally conceived, thus becoming one of a number of women in these old stories to conquer their barrenness through divine intercession.

The child was named Mary, though this was originally spelt Miryam, or Mariam in the Islamic tradition. She was born maybe in Bethlehem, maybe in Nazareth, maybe in Jerusalem by the pool of Bethesda, where her Son would one day cure a sick man. Some say the spot is beneath the church of Saint Anne. Wherever it was, she would grow up to be part of one of mankind’s great stories and religions. And Joachim would give his name to the old sugar factory, that of San Joaquín, near Maro, which used to receive its water via the splendid Águila aqueduct.

This part of the month is also notable for the bonfires that light up the night around the 7th and 8th of September all over the Axarquía countryside. The idea seems to have its origins in the end of the grape harvest, when there’s a symbolic clear-out of junk to burn with autumn just around the corner. People gather round the bonfires to sing, dance and so on. The name of this fiesta? Las Candelarias. Listeners who’ve been paying attention over the last few months and with long memories will rightly point out that we’ve already had a fiesta by that name, back in February. Indeed, but that was La Candelaria, singular. This month’s is the plural version, Las Candelarias.

You can listen to the episode below