Years before revisiting Spain as an adult, its reputation for the love of festa, or fiesta, had preceded itself every time I mentioned to somebody how much I felt drawn to this part of the world. The question would always arise: have you been to Barcelona yet during Festes Majors?
The City That Never Sleeps – and It Ain’t New York
When I finally arrived in Barcelona summer of 2014, I quickly learned directly from the source where all of this talk of non-stop partying had come from. Mind you, coming from New York City, I thought I had one up on the Spanish party-goers, or so I thought, But I quickly learned that we Americans are several steps behind Barcelona and its party scene. It’s simply on another level, and it was one pleasant surprise after another that fateful summer.
Even before Festes Majors: Professional Partiers?
I was dating a Portuguese engineer at the time who had already been in Barcelona for a few years. He was my ticket to this new world I was discovering, because he graciously shared tips with me about where to go and what to do. He even would stay out with me on a Tuesday night, then wake up at 6am to work in Terrassa, just outside the city center, and come back to Barcelona in the evenings and decide then if it would be a party night or not. Sounds crazy? But this is a typical lifestyle amongst young professionals, and for a while I even questioned if many of my seemingly successful acquaintances even worked or just partied for a living.
Las Festes Majors
And it was through him I learned about the summer festes majors, or “grand festivals,” in Barcelona.
During the summer months, each neighborhood holds a weeklong street festival where they decorate, and have night after night of live music, drinking and dancing on the streets, all the while simply enjoying being outside with others for the simple pleasure of loving life, because that’s what it’s all about, as long as we’re still here.
Festes Majors: Family-Friendly Fun
It was freedom; it was fun, getting together with friends on a hot summer night to laugh, drink, and dance to local artists while meeting locals and expats from all over the world.
The events are family-friendly, so whether you’re single, or looking for summer activities with the kids, it’s a special sight to see, especially with fancy street decor that recreates images of being in the Amazon among other creative themes.
Since the festival location rotates, it’s common to run into familiar faces.
Now, what I discovered that summer is that each “fiesta major” is like a warm-up to the grandest summer party of them all – a time when the entire city turns into a giant festival of street art, parades, fireworks, live music and rituals for 4 days straight – the festival of La Mercè.
The Biggest Party within las Festes Majors: La Mercè
La Mercè is the patron saint of Barcelona, the protector of this grand party city that knows how to set nightlife on fire with electronic music, non-stop dancing and after-hours parties that run for 48 hours straight; sleep optional. It is the very last party of the season, happening officially on September 24th when the entire city becomes a stage with acts ranging from local performance artists to those who are world-renowned. Best of all, wait for it…
The events are totally free! Anywhere you go, you will run into music events and performances.
There’s also a parade that happens with figures of dancing devils, gargoyles, and goblins twirling around, spitting fire, and spouting fireworks from their masks while marching through the city.
They shut down all the streets, and suddenly, the city is walkable and maximally enjoyable at the feet of the Catalans and tourists. They normally accompany this dance with beating drums and marching songs that are surely hundreds of years old, carrying these Catalan traditions into modern times.
The first time I stumbled across this parade on Via Laietana, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest in sync with the drum rhythms, and I could do nothing other than to join these dancing devils in the streets.
Many of these festivals originated as religious traditions, but you need zero understanding of religion to appreciate how these ancient traditions have developed – only an open mind and a daring soul ready to embrace new and old cultural traditions.
What are some of your favorite summer celebrations around the world? Sign up for free and comment, so we can inspire each other to discover something new!
by: Marjorie Vera