Beginning Over, 23. Bring Out the Music.

This is one of the weekends with the most festas, feiras, concerts, gatherings, and processions of the year. Today is the day of the Assumption of the Virigin Mary, and it has always been duly noted in such a Catholic country as Spain. Even though Mass attendance and the number of Spanish Catholics that are practicing continue plummetting, the celebrations around this day are still going strong. 

But there are differences between the religious and the profane, though the two are inextricably intertwined. While the root celebration is the Assumption, (around the 15th of August, at least) it tends to be forgotten. So, a festa is not quite the same as a feira. And a concert might have its roots in a religious rite. Whatever the event, here is some vocabulary.

  • Festas. 

That is the word in Galician. In Castilian, it's fiestas. These are the actual religious celebrations. They tend to be parochial affairs to celebrate one of the patron saints (or the only one) of the parish. So many parishes have the Virgin as a saint, that most of the country is celebrating special Masses today, generally with processions around the church or parish after the midday Mass. (It's also the saint's day of most women, since so many have the name Maria somewhere. María Begoña, María del Carmen, María Pilar, María Consuelo, María Esther, etc.) The festas can last the weekend, or stretch several days into the week. In A Coruña, the Virgin is the patron saint of the city, or at least the most central parish, and this week of August has become their local holidays. To help the coruñeses celebrate, the Festival do Noroeste was set up years ago, with musical acts all over the city, including on the beach at Riazor. Various international artists have played there. We've seen The Pretenders, Patti Smith, and UB40 this year.

  • Sesión Vermú

This is more common in the smaller parish festas. A band that has been hired generally plays for about an hour at midday, so parishioners can drink their vermús, or aperitifs before heading home for the hearty holiday lunch that will last until possibly five in the afternoon. 

  • Verbena

This is the musical celebration at night. One or two orquestas will probably play, alternating, from around ten or ten thirty in the evening, till sometimes four or five in the morning. In certain parishes, generally in the larger towns celebrating their local holidays, the last day they play until nine, or even eleven, in the morning, after which the attendees that can still stand go for breakfast. The traditional food after being out all night is chocolate con churros, sticks of fried dough dunked in thick, hot, gooey, yummy chocolate. The sugar, at least, will knock you out until the early evening.

  • Orquesta

This is not an orquestra in the sense most Anglos would understand it. It's an itinerant band that goes from festa to festa, charging according to the hours and nights it plays. (The attendees never pay, though. More in a minute.) It doesn't create music of its own, but pays a canon and sings and plays popular music, mostly Latina these years (It's easier for the singers to memorize Spanish songs.). These bands have their own travelling stages.

  • Palco

This is the stage. It consists of a tractor trailer truck that opens up and creates a stage with the sides and top, as well as with heavy-duty curtains. This stage can have different levels, and a very good light and sound system. Many are complex, and can change scenery between songs, since most of these bands also have showy dance numbers to accompany the music. Watching one of these bands is almost like watching a musical variety show on television, with all the complex lighting, scenes, and sound.

  • Comisión de festas

This is the group of people in charge of getting everything together for the profane part of the festas (the priest takes care of the Masses). These are residents of the parish that will go from house to house within the parish asking for money every year, to help fund the festas. Depending on what they raise will depend the number of days and the caché of the bands hired. I'm not sure just how the people of the comisión are chosen. I do know it goes by voting at a meeting, but I've never been to one. I have no relish of ever being in charge of organizing such a large event. 

  • Bandas

These are actually marching bands that tend to have both veteran musicians and students. They also play at festas, but generally during the day, marching down one street, up another, or sitting in folding chairs in a plaza. They tend to have more Spanish music, such as pasodobles, and modern classical, such as music scores by John Williams. All the muscians wear a uniform, and usually hat, and might look like a cop if caught down a side street without their instrument. They're usually affiliated to different towns, being considered municipal employees.

  • Charangas

These are similar to the bandas, but don't wear a uniform, are independent, consist of fewer musicians, and play more lively music. 

  • Feiras

These celebrations have no religious components whatsoever. They have popped up in recent years to re-create a sort of historical feature of a town. Most are either Medieval or Celtic, with the excuse that switching from one to the other is relatively simple, and only affects costume. These feiras consist of many stalls selling all sorts of things that generally have no historical basis whatsoever. Most goods, however, are hand-made and one-of-a-kind. There are also different sorts of exhibitions, such as birds. At the Medieval fair of Noia, for example, they usually exhibit hawks of different kinds, and show people how they were once used to hunt. There can also be different artisans, such as shoemakers or stone masons, showing how they work, as well as activities for children. 

  • Festa de Mexillón, Pulpo, Sardiña, Cabrito, etc...

Any mention of a festa that is followed by the name of a food is not religious. Many people religiously attend each year, but no priest blesses them. These celebrations have appeared all over the geography, more than anything, to attract people with cheaper (not so much, anymore) food. Right now, the Festa do Marisco (all about the seafood) is going full strength all this week in the Illa de Arousa. Given that it's an island, has limited parking space, masses of tourists are here, and people have missed these things these past three years, I don't recommend going. We went, once, on a boat with a friend of a friend. It was better than fighting to get on the island, and parking five kilometers away. We simply docked at the small port and walked a few meters to the tent where the food and tables were. I doubt it would happen again, especially in these pandemic-starved times.

Around here, the last big festivals will be in Rianxo, the Festa da Virxe da Guadalupe, and the Festa do Nazareno in Pobra do Caramiñal, in mid-September. After that, a weekend in the parish of nearby Leiro in October, and we're all set until Santa Lucía in December, which is really a day of Masses, and might have some sort of small festa, but it's not very usual. Any excuse for a day of celebration will do, though.

Life continues.   


Popular posts from this blog

Not So Fast, 9. Fairness.

Beginning Over, 22. They Just Don't Learn.

Beginning Over, 13. Past is Present.