Nick Butcher on Fiestas and Foods of Spain:
La Fiesta Nacional de España
Nacional de España- 12th October
In this, the
last in this series of talks, it is perhaps fitting that three of
the most significant figures in the story of Spain, of its culture
and its beliefs, come together for a celebration of the national
holiday that is the 12th October.
first of the three is Christopher Columbus, known in Spanish as
Cristóbal Colón. Everyone knows his story, of course,
without perhaps being able to pin down the date of his arrival in
the New World. Well, it was October 12th, 1492, the place the island
of Guanahani, in the Bahamas, which Columbus renamed San Salvador.
This momentous event was to lead to the conquest of vast territories
for the Spanish crown, and the diffusion of Spanish culture and
language throughout much of the continent.
As ever for
the local population of these countries, their so called 'discovery'
by people from elsewhere was a very mixed blessing. As has been
the norm throughout history, those on the receiving end of the quest
for empire did not have much say in the matter of their future,
a future that was anyway cut short for many by the introduction
of a variety of lethal diseases to which they had no immunity.
started to crumble in the nineteenth century, a result of local
discontent and trouble at home with the Peninsular War. Along with
it went the concept bearing the antequated name 'hispanidad', or
'Spanishness'which supposedly united the nations and peoples who
shared Spanish culture and language with some common bond.
have to go much further back in history to find the other figures
in our story. It was the year 40AD, and the apostle James the Greater,
son of Zebedee, was busy preaching and converting in the city of
Caesaraugusta on the River Iber in the north-east of Hispania, now
known as Aragón.
Over in Palestine,
the Virgin Mary prayed to her Son for James's success in his mission.
In response, Jesus sent her some angels who picked Mary up and flew
her through the skies to the bank of the river, where she appeared
to James. Her instructions to him were that, with a pillar of jasper
that the angels had also brought with them, James was to start the
construction of a temple, the first temple in the world dedicated
to her. James did as he was told, and his church was eventually
dedicated to the Virgin Mary on the 12th October. It contained the
original pillar and a statue of 'la Virgen del Pilar' on its top.
original church nor the original statue survive, but a fine baroque
basilica now stands by the river Ebro in Zaragoza, as they are now
known, and the present statue of the Virgin
and her pillar are much revered. Many Spanish girls are given the
name María del Pilar (Pilar for short) in her honour, and
not only did she become patron of Aragón but she was also
adopted by the Civil Guard as their patron, having, it was believed,
played an important part in several military campaigns.
became the subject of his own legend, finding lasting fame as Santiago,
the slayer of Moors, and he, of course, has his own centre of pilgrimage,
indeed a city named after him, Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia.
His temple there, and Mary's in Zaragoza are the axes around which
Spanish Catholicism revolves.
The idea of
combining a commemoration of Columbus' great feat and the day of
La Virgen del Pilar arose in the early twentieth century. Originally
it was called 'el Día de la Raza' or 'Day of the Race' (the
Spanish race, in other words). Some countries still call it that,
but Spain changed it to 'el Día de la Hispanidad', and more
recently to 'La Fiesta Nacional de España'. Elsewhere, it's
known as 'el Día de Las Culturas', 'Discovery Day' or 'Columbus
Day', but Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, has made his
feelings on the subject clear by calling it the 'Day of Indigenous
day is marked in Madrid by a large military parade and fly-past,
with all the armed forces represented, in front of the royal family
and various politicians. It's a symbolicaly fraught occasion that
can often be tinged with controversy or drama. Up in Zaragoza, it's
a less politically charged day, and thousands of people in traditional
dress file past the Virgin to leave elaborate floral offerings as
hommage. It is the culmination of their annual 'fiestas'and there
is much dancing of the 'jota' to celebrate.
And at this
time in Nerja the year has come full circle since I started these
talks, and the town will once again be in the middle of its annual
fair. I hope it will be a happy and enjoyable one for all.