Travelling, sightseeing and generally being a tourist is amazingly fun and culturally enriching - and even more so when you truly become a part of local traditions and habits that the natives of your destination have been perfecting over years and years. So make the most of your travels, hop on a Renfe-SNCF en Cooperation high speed train, and participate in these incredible, unique and amazing traditions!
Dia de Reyes
The Three Magic Kings
The Winter Holidays is not just Christmas and New Year in Spain. Oh no, they go up and beyond many other cultures, and extend their festivities all the way into the New Year, until the 6th of January, known as the Three Kings Day, or, in Spanish, Dia de Reyes.
While in some cultures Three Kings Day is simply the end of the Winter Holidays, symbolized officially by the taking down of the Christmas Tree, Spain takes it to a whole other level. Tradition in fact dictates that while Baby Jesus was born on Christmas Day, it was not Santa Claus who gave him gifts that day, but someone else entirely. The 6th of January marks the day when the three wise men, Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior, arrived at the crib bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Although this tradition has been somewhat affected by globalization and Westernization, the Spanish tradition is to honor this by exchanging gifts on this day.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Spain during this time, be sure to keep some of your day free as cities and streets will flood with people and parades. Floats ride through the streets with dressed -up adults on top throwing gifts and sweets down to children waiting (not so) patiently on the sidewalk below. Don’t forget to try some Rosca de Reyes (or “King’s Bread”) also, a traditional cake which makes up an intrinsical part of this day.
Sitges Film Festival - Sitges
A terrorific picture from Sitges Film Festival
Known to be one of Europe’s most famous film festival and the number one fantasy film festival, the International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia is dedicated to fantasy, horror and thriller motion pictures.
The tradition started back in 1968 as the International Week of Fantasy and Horror Movies in Sitges and has been growing ever since. As the name may suggest, the event takes place in Sitges, a city less than an hour outside of Barcelona, right on the Mediterranean Coast.
In the past few years the action has attracted around 180.000 people from all over the world, who can enjoy film viewings as well as conferences, expositions, tributes and other special activities.
As if all this excitement wasn’t enough, every year the festival organizes a Zombie Walk through the city. Hundreds and hundreds of people com with their zombie-like clothing and line up for hours before it begins to get their free professional make-up to prepare for the night's activity. During hours around a thousand people take to the streets as a mass of post-apocalyptic, terrorizing zombies before partying until dawn!
The festival takes place every year at the beginning of October, this year being from the 7th to the 16th of October, 2016.
San Jordi - Barcelona, Catalonia
Rose and book
While many people in the Western world save a special place in their hearts, and their calendars, for the 14th of February, also known as Valentine’s Day, the Barcelonians like doing things a little differently. The truth is that the celebration of this day is somewhat of a unique mixture. Sant Jordi is Catalan for Saint George who is known to have saved a beautiful princess from a dangerous, blood-thirsty dragon who had been terrorizing the village. Legend tells us that as Sant Jordi slayed the terrible beast, a magnificent rose bush began to sprout from the thick, red blood that ran from its heart. The knight went up to the bush and picked the biggest most stunning rose and gave it to the princess. Sant Jordi also happens to be Catalonia’s patron saint, making it the perfect two-in-one celebration.
Two-in-one then became three-in-one, as on this same date, in 1926, Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most famous author, died, and this day became one of book celebration as well. In 1995, UNESCO declared it also as World Book Day, in tribute to the death’s of the Spanish writer, William Shakespeare, and others.
And so, on the 23rd of April, Catalonia celebrates a particularly unique and romantic day full of engrossing books, blooming roses and passionate kisses. Book sellers and florists take to the streets, lining them with stalls selling books of all sizes, ages and genres and the most beautifully smelling roses. According to tradition, men buy women the most stunning roses they can find wrapped in a Catalonian flag, and women give men a thrilling book. Want to be a part of more amazing events taking place in Barcelona? Check out these music festivals!
Santa Claus Race - Paris, France
Santa Claus Race
You will never hear the citizens of Issy-les-Moulineaux complain about that “little extra holiday weight” that many of us suffer from due to large family reunions over dinner, the baking and eating of delicious Christmas cookies and the late-night chocolate tastings by the fire.
Why is that? Because every year, during the second week of December, this Parisian suburb organizes their annual Corrida de Noel, in other words, a Santa Claus Race.
This awesome tradition started was born back in 1977, when they decide to introduce a sporty initiative to the start of the holiday season. It started off as a small affair, but grew over the years, reaching international levels in 1982 with the participation of Moroccan athlete Saïd Aouita, who would go on to become an Olympic champion two years later. At that time, the event brought together around 2,000 in total, running in the several races it held.
In recent years, the quirky yet genius initiative unites around 18,000 people a year (and growing!) from all over. The event holds both competitive and friendly race alike, but around 6 to 7 thousand merry people join every year for a 10km friendly race through the city’s streets, dressed up in full Santa Claus costumes, cheered on by spectators, music bands and street artists watching from the sidelines. Interested in visiting some other small cities and towns outside of Paris? Read about these beautiful day trips!
Le poisson d’avril
Le poisson d’avril
Many of you, I’m sure, will be aware and, at some point your lives, have celebrated what In English we have come to know as April Fool’s day - the first day of April, on which we play funny and harmless pranks of all sorts on our friends and family. Less likely, however, would it be for you to know the origin of this humorous tradition. And although the theories are many and unproven, it seems there is one which tends to be more popular than the others.
The story tells us that this is, in fact, a custom of French origin, whose creation dates back to the 16th century. It seems that in 1564, French King of the time Charles XIV, decided to alter the calendar, changing the start of the year from the beginning of April to the 1st of January, as we know it today. As technology has not yet been invented, and communication between cities and countries was a tricky, slow ordeal, the news of this change took its time to make its way around the country. As such, there were some people, either due to lack of knowledge or refusal to change, who continued to celebrate the New Year on the first of April. It was these people who were the first to be mocked, and called ‘April Fools’ (In French, Poisson d’Avril.
And this is the tradition we still keep alive today. In French, it is called Le Poisson d’Avril, which directly translates to April Fish rather than April Fool, although no one really knows where the fish came into the story. French children celebrate this day most commonly however, by drawing and cutting out fish on paper, and running around taping it to kids’ and adults’ backs without them noticing.