A few days ago, the nearby town, Sant Cugat, held its Festa Major. The usual castellers, gegants, folk dancing and diablos all made their required appearances. As if there weren't enough other saints' days, holidays and festivals, each city in Catalunya (and probably Spain, hoping a commenter can confirm) celebrates a festa major (catalan). For some towns, the festa major honors the town's patron saint. Yes, just like names, cities have patron saints who are venerated with several days of special celebrations. For other towns the festa major is held on a date that honors a historical event or its foundation.
Community Meal Sant Cugat Festa Major 2010 | Sant Cugat Ajuntament
According to my children's book on Catalan traditions, the festa major began as a way to celebrate the end of the agricultural season. A festa major is an opportunity for the community to gather, to participate, to relax and to celebrate a shared heritage. I love that there is little to do with commerce. Growing up in California, I loved going to art and wine festivals with my parents. But it seems that buying (whether it is expensive festival food or artisan wares) is the main focus of many festivals back home. The Sant Cugat festa major did have one evening of sidewalk sales. But buying is hardly the focus of 99% of the activities. The focus truly is about community gathering.
Gracia's Festa Major is perhaps the best example of this spirit. Throughout the year, different neighborhoods throughout Gracia plan and collect recycled supplies to decorate their street for a competition with the other streets.
A festa major usually lasts about three days and typically one of the days is an official holiday (no work or school). Yes, one day is not enough. When festivals are a regular occurrence, the festa major has got to be a big deal. And a big deal it is. I am always impressed with the organization it takes to put on a festa major. Events are held at different locations throughout the day from morning into the wee hours of the night.
Paella Cook-Off Sant Cugat Festa Major 2010 | Sant Cugat Ajuntament
Activities for each population group (kids, seniors, teens, twentysomethings, athletes, old ladies who like to make lace, people you like to cook huge pans of paella). If you have an interest, chances are there is an activity you would enjoy. A paella cook-off, barbecues in the street, outdoor cinema, juggling workshops, community meals, water gun fights, sports tournaments, play spaces for children, a water party, outdoor music, concerts at 2 AM for joves (teens/twentsomethings)... and the list goes on and on. Finding a listing for a Taller de bricolatge sexual: construccio de boles xineses was quite a surprise. Use google translate to figure it out yourself. And, no, I didn't attend the taller (workshop). Indeed something for everyone!
If you are traveling to Spain and Catalunya, I would definitely plan your travel around attending one of the many festivals. You will get a chance to celebrate with locals, see local customs firsthand and enjoy lots of free entertainment. It would be hard to attend a festival in Spain and leave without catching the spirit of the people.