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Fernando: Five famous festivals of the Spanish speaking world. Hello everyone, I’m joined by JP.
JP: Hey Fernando, what’s going on?
Fernando: Today we’re going to talk about five festivals that are very important for the Spanish speaking countries.
JP: Ok. I know that Spanish speaking people, you know, people in Spain and Latin America, they have more festivals than just five, right?
Fernando: Yes, they have many more festivals than just five.
JP: Ok, but these are the ones that are really famous, right?
Fernando: Yes.
JP: You might even have heard of them.
Fernando: Why don’t you tell us JP about one of the festivals you’ve attended?
JP: Ok the first festival I want to talk about is Sanfermines. This is the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona every year that gets bigger and bigger and crazier and drunker.
Fernando: Yes I’ve seen plenty of photos and video from that.
JP: Yeah, now just to give you more information this is a week-long festival. Everybody dresses in white with a red scarf. For the encierro, which is the bull-run, they actually close off (actually encierro means closing off) they close off part of the streets to get the bulls from the bullpen, which is actually a bullpen to the stadium. They close off part of the streets and let the, run through the streets. And of course all the people celebrating will run with the bulls down the streets hoping not to get gored.
Fernando: Right, it sounds pretty dangerous.
JP: It is dangerous. Now there’s all kinds of other traditions around this festival. There’s songs that you sing, they typical drink, the calimocho which is red wine and Coca-Cola.
Fernando: Weird.
JP: Yeah, it’s weird. You know they drink them out of bota bags, the wine skins. They’ve got parades and they’ve got people in costumes with giant heads called the cabesudos. It’s crazy, there’s all kinds of crazy things. You know, it’s in the Basque region, and the Basques just have really complicated traditions.
Fernando: Wonderful, sounds just like a page out of The Sun Also Rises.
JP: That’s right.
Fernando: So, what other festivals have you experienced?
JP: Well, we talked about Spain. I also want to talk about Mexico, which actually you might be more familiar with. We have the Puente Guadalupe Reyes. This is more than a festival; this is a season of festivals. It’s equivalent to the American holiday season where we start with Halloween and then Veteran’s Day and then Thanksgiving and then Christmas and then New Years. They’re all strung together, right?
Fernando: Yes.
JP: Well when we talk about the Puente Guadalupe Reyes we’re talking about the festival of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, so this is the virgin of Guadalupe, who’s the patron saint of the Americas and of Mexico and Mexicans are always very proud of her. It is a religious celebration and for a lot of people it starts on December 1 and it’s a 12 day festival, from the 1st through the 12th. The reason it’s called the Puente is because it goes from the celebration of Guadalupe and then bridging the time all the way until (Puente means bridge) and then stretching all the way until Dia de los Reyes, which we call in English the Epiphany. It’s the day that the three kings come, the three Magi come and give their gift to the baby Jesus. Ok, so it’s called the Puente because it bridges those two distant holidays.
Fernando: Yes, exactly.
JP: And the entire time is like a holiday celebration, right?
Fernando: It is. It’s not necessarily like a festival per say, it’s a string of festivals. Some of us call it the Guadalupe Reyes marathon. And what that entails is drink every day. So that’s a marathon, that’s a drinking marathon.
JP: Ok, what do you call that in Spanish?
Fernando: El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes. There are others who would like to start a Maratón Reyes Guadalupe.
JP: Ok, tell us really quick, Fernando, about Las Posadas.
Fernando: Las Posadas is a tradition we have in Mexico where we’ll have families, friends over and we’ll sing, we’ll eat, we’ll get together, we’ll drink. What “posada” means is to give shelter. So we will reenact that part of the tradition when the Virgin Mary and father Joseph were seeking shelter. And what will happen is everyone will break out and chant. One group will sing the Virgin Mary’s part.
JP: Ok, please let us in, please let us in, right?
Fernando: Exactly. And the other part will be the ones inside responding.
JP: No room in the inn.
Fernando: Yes exactly. And it’s a tradition so literally people will go outside and sing. So it’s interesting, it’s definitely interesting.
JP: Ok, we should also talk about Christmas and New Years. Now, obviously in the United States we also celebrate Christmas and New Years. Are there any especially Mexican traditions regarding Christmas and New Years?
Fernando: Yes, well regarding cuisine absolutely. The tamales, the menudo or posole or the bacalao.
JP: Ok so those are Christmas foods.
Fernando: Those are Christmas foods. And then could have some baked turkey. It’s pretty traditional.
JP: Ok. What about New Year?
Fernando: Baked turkey, ham, some salmon. It’s a great way to feast, definitely.
JP: Ok, now what’s the thing with the grapes? Why are Mexican peoples stuffing themselves with grapes on New Year’s Eve?
Fernando: Well, when the clock hits 12 there will be 12 chimes so there are 12 grapes that you will want to stuff your face with.
JP: And why do I want to do this?
Fernando: One for each chime. So each grape represents a wish.
JP: Oh my goodness.
Fernando: If you swallow all 12 before the 12 chimes then they will supposedly all be granted. It’s interesting. Some people are superstitious, others are less so, but it’s a tradition. That’s my experience with the Guadalupe Reyes season. So JP, what other festivals? Come on.
JP: So next I want to talk about La Semana Santa which in Catholic tradition in Holy Week. Of course, since Spain and Latin America are traditionally Catholic countries, the Holy Week celebrations are much more important on a national level than they are in, say, North America. Now when I talk about Holy Week we’re talking about the week before Easter Sunday. So it starts with Palm Sunday and then goes to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and then finally Easter Sunday. So they way this works is that Semana Santa is off. It’s a seven day national holiday.
Fernando: Right, which falls specifically on the Holy Week. Whereas say in the US, it’s just spring break.
JP: So that’s the thing. I know in Mexico and I’m pretty sure in other countries as well, the entire country gets Holy Week off and then they get the next week off for spring break, so it’s 2 weeks.
Fernando: Some do, some organizations do, and that’s quite a perk to have. Where have you spent Holy Week?
JP: I’ve spent a few Easters in Mexico City actually, which is a great time to visit Mexico City because the whole city is empty, everyone is gone. So it was really interesting with Mexico City being relatively empty, it was a relatively mellow time, there wasn’t much of a festival atmosphere. And it was funny because the following week we always take off for Acapulco and we’d take off on the freeway and it’s funny because that’s the exact time that people are coming back so we just miss it. So all the traffic is coming back and we’re like sailing out.
Fernando: That’s wonderful.
JP: But if you’re looking for a very traditional, very colorful Holy Week celebration everybody says to go to Antigua de Guatemala. Antigua is the colonial city in Guatemala in the mountains. They carpet the streets with flowers, and in fact the decorations are called alfombras.
Fernando: That’s beautiful.
JP: Yeah, it’s pretty stunning. It’s a very visually stunning and very moving Holy Week celebration.
Fernando: I can imagine. What is next?
JP: Alright what’s next is Dia de los Muertos. Dia de los Muertos, this is All Souls Day, we say in English, but the direct translation of El Dia de los Muertos is the Day of the Dead. Now All Souls Day is November 2 so it kind of corresponds with American Halloween which is October 31, but it happens on the feast of All Souls which is the 2 of November. Alright Fernando, you’re Mexican, of course you’ve had Dia de los Muertos celebrations right?
Fernando: Yes absolutely.
JP: Did you go to the cemetery?
Fernando: I’ve done that in the past. When I was younger my family and I, my extended family, we would all get together and head out to the cemetery and clean off my grandfather’s grave. What we’re doing is making an offer to our deceased family members, in this case my grandfather. So you’ll start off with a bucket of water, soap, clean it off, have some floral arrangements, very nice, put it around, say a prayer. It’s not necessarily the happiest of times, but it’s not somber.
JP: It’s not?
Fernando: No, it’s not. If anything it’s a celebration of that person and it’s a celebration of death. I know that may sound odd for some of the listeners.
JP: Yeah Americans are definitely afraid of death.
Fernando: Yeah, but after all if this person has lived a beautiful life I think that’s where you should celebrate it. And of course there is some mourning, but in this case what we’re doing is celebrating. And this only happens once a year.
JP: Right, now I know a lot of people are familiar with Dia de los Muertos and all of the skulls. There’s a lot of skulls and skeleton imagery right? Like even with baked goods. It’s not just decorations, it’s stuff that you eat.
Fernando: Yeah, pan de muerto.
JP: Pan de muerto. That’s the sweet roll with bones on it, right?
Fernando: Yeah, exactly and it’s very delicious. And it sells awesomely in all of Mexico.
JP: Like pan fresco, no?
Fernando: Yeah exactly. There’s eating chocolate skulls, there’s even decorating altars. Back to the point of going to the cemetery, you’ll decorate altars. In school what we would do is find a deceased celebrity or deceased family member, whoever we wanted to celebrate, and we would build an altar. And there are contests, there are prizes for the most beautiful altar. A good place to go in Mexico would be Lago de Pascuaro which is in Michocán, which is a beautiful ritual.
JP: And it’s a competition for those altares, right?
Fernando: Well, it’s not necessarily a competition there, but it’s more the festival itself of Dia de los Muertos. And it is quite a festival. Now JP I know you have one more up your sleeve.
JP: Ok, now this one is not technically a Catholic festival. It’s kind of an anti-festival.
Fernando: Anti-festival?
JP: Yeah, because what we’re going to talk about is Fat Tuesday which is the reaction to Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and that’s when you’re supposed to give everything up, right? And so naturally on the night before you’re supposed to give everything up, you’re going to want to play it up. You’re going to want to live out all of your decadent gluttony before you have to give it up. So it’s not really a church-sanctioned thing on Fat Tuesday.
Fernando: I can see that.
JP: But it’s definitely a part of Latin American culture. Most places in the Catholic world, including Latin America, will have some kind of party going down on Fat Tuesday.
Fernando: Are we talking about festivals, marches, parades?
JP: Well not everybody has those big parades but some places are famous for their Carnival parades. Carnival is another name for Fat Tuesday.
Fernando: Let me guess. Rio de Janero.
JP: Rio de Janero definitely has the most famous Carnival. But also in the Spanish speaking world you have places like, in Argentina you have Corrientes Argentina, they have a very famous celebration. Ouro Bolivia has a very famous indigenous celebration from these pre-Colombian cultures. In Ecuador, in Colombia. What’s interesting is that especially in South America, these celebrations are always infused with the indigenous culture. Like there’s some kind of native thing that’s just mixed in with the partying and the excess.
Fernando: Exactly. That sounds like a lot of fun. The day after doesn’t.
JP: The day after that Lent starts so party on Fat Tuesday.
Fernando: JP, thank you so much for your insight.
JP: Thank you, Fernando.
Fernando: Thank you very much JP and we’ll be back soon with another edition of All About Spanish. Have a good one, listeners.
JP: Hasta luego.
Fernando: Bye-bye.