The festivals in Cadiz and its corresponding calendar follow a similar pattern to most of Western Europe. The major festivals occur around Christmas and Easter but there are a few more that are unique to Cadiz and can provide a special surprise.
Cadiz, in keeping with the rest of Spain, celebrates the Magi on the day of Epiphany, January 6, the day immediately following the twelve days of Christmas. At this time, the Three Kings ("Los Reyes Magos") receive letters from children, similar to the way Santa Claus does, and so bring them gifts on the night before Epiphany. In Cadiz, each one of the Magi is supposed to represent one different continent, Europe (Melchior), Asia (Caspar) and Africa (Balthasar). According to the tradition, the Magi come from the Orient on their camels to visit the houses of all the children; much like Santa Claus with his reindeer, they visit everyone in one night. In some areas, children prepare a drink for each of the Magi. It is also traditional to prepare food and drink for the camels, because this is the only night of the year when they eat.
In Spain, there is a long tradition for having the children receive presents by the three "Reyes Magos" on the night of January 5 (Epiphany Eve) or morning of January 6. Almost every Spanish city or town organises "cabalgatas" in the evening, in which the kings and their servants parade and throw sweets to the children (and parents) in attendance.
If you happen to be in Cadiz watch out for sweets hurling through the air and desperate children going wild to stock up on the sweetie goodness, some parents even bring umbrellas to use as make shift collectors in order to take full advantage of the freebies. The Mystery Play of the Three Magic Kings is also presented on Epiphany Eve.
There is also a "Roscón", a cake, which is ring-shaped and most commonly bought and not baked. It contains both a small figurine of the baby Jesus and an actual dry broad bean. The one who gets the figurine is crowned, but whoever gets the bean has to pay the value of the cake to the person who originally bought it.
In the last week of March Málaga, Seville, Cadiz and other major Spanish cities hold elaborate processions for Holy Week, the week prior to easter. A tradition that dates from medieval times which has spread to other cities inAndalusia, and Cadiz is notable for featuring the procession of "pasos", which are lifelike wood or plaster sculptures of individual scenes of the events that happened between Jesus' arrest and his burial, or images of the Virgin Mary showing grief for the torture and killing of her son. These scenes are carried by anywhere between 20-30 men and these men start practice all year long to prepare for holy week.
There are also the lifelike wooden or plaster sculptures, or "tronos", that are carried through the streets by penitents dressed in long purple robes, often with pointed hats, followed by women in black carrying candles for up to 11 hours. These pasos and tronos are physically carried on the necks of costaleros or "braceros"and can weigh up to five metric tonnes. The pasos are set up and maintained by hermandades and cofradías, religious brotherhoods that are common to a specific area of the city, whose precede the paso dressed in Roman military costumes or penitential robes. Those members who wish to do so wear these penitential robes with conical hats, or capirotes, used to conceal the face of the wearer.
A brass band, marching band, a drum and bugle band, may accompany the group, playing funeral marches, hymns or "marchas" written for the occasion. The music is quite epic and emotional so you may see some Spanish people weeping at the sight of the "pasos". The narrow streets of Cadiz become full of people trying to catch a glimpse of the extravagant designs of the scenes and images.
Although not a festival unique to Cadiz the Seville Fair has a cultural influence on the Andalucian region. The fair generally begins two weeks after Holy week. The fair officially begins at midnight on Monday, and runs six days, ending on the following Sunday. During past fairs, however, many activities have begun on the Saturday prior to the official opening. Each day the fiesta begins with the parade of carriages and riders, at midday, carrying leading citizens which make their way to the bullring, La Real Maestranza, where the bullfighters and breeders meet.
The fair is notable for the way in which men and women dress up in their finery. Ideally the traditional "traje corto" (short jacket, tight trousers and boots) for men and the "faralaes" or "trajes de flamenca" (flamenco style dress) for women. The men traditionally wear hats (or sombreros) called "cordobés". Prepare your camera and yourself to be dazzled by the beautiful outfits.
Later in the year a night that stands out as a festival of the year is the Night of the Barbecues. On this night masses of people descend onto Victoria beach, in the new part, with barbecues and beers ready to enjoy a night on the beach. It also coincides with the annual Carranza trophy which is a football tournament organised by the local football team, Cadiz F.C. This festival of Cadiz usually takes place in mid-August.
The final year in the Spanish and Cadiz calendar is New Year's Eve (Nochevieja or Fin de Año) whose celebrations usually begin with a family dinner, traditionally including shrimp or prawns, and lamb or capon. Local tradition says that wearing new, red underwear on New Year's Eve brings good luck. The actual countdown is met with the traditional custom of eating twelve grapes, one on each chime of the clock. This tradition has its origins in 1909, when grape growers in Alicante thought of it as a way to cut down on the large production surplus they had had that year. Nowadays, the tradition is followed by almost every Spaniard, and the twelve grapes have become synonymous with the New Year. After the clock has finished striking twelve, people greet each other and toast with sparkling wine such as cava or champagne, or with cider.
After the family dinner and the grapes, many young people attend cotillones de nochevieja parties (named for the Spanish word cotillón, which refers to party supplies like confetti, party blowers, and party hats) at pubs, clubs, and similar places. Parties usually last until the next morning and range from small, personal celebrations at local bars to huge parties with guests numbering the thousands at hotel convention rooms. Early the next morning, party attendees usually gather to have the traditional winter breakfast of hot chocolate and fried pastry (chocolate con churros).
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