Here's a quick run down on the main festivals packed into Granada's agenda.
Fiesta de la Toma
(Festival of the Capture)
When: January 2
Festival Description: To celebrate the day that the Catholic Monarchs "liberated" Granada back in 1492, festivities include a colorful procession featuring 15th century period costumes, the raising of the monarchs' banner at the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), and hoards of young people scrambling up the Alhambra's Torre de la Vela to ring its bell.
When: January 5-6
Festival Description: On January 5, Granada- particularly the children- welcomes the arrival of the Three Kings with a big parade called the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, where the three Biblical monarchs process through the city accompanied by a whole entourage of colorful characters. The next morning, January 6, is like the Spanish equivalent of Christmas day in the United States- full of presents begging to be opened!
Festival de San Cecilio
(Festival of San Cecilio)
When: February 2
Festival Description: To celebrate the feast day of San Cecilio, Granada's patron saint, a mass is held in the Abadía del Sacromonte (Sacromonte Abbey), where he is interred. Another big highlight of the festival is the gastronomic competitions- a great way to try the best of Granada's mouth-watering food!
When: March / April
Festival Description: Along with music and tapas, religion plays a monumental role in Andalucía's culture- even more so than throughout the rest of Spain- so you can imagine the kind of show they put on to commemorate major religious holidays. Let's take Easter, for example.
Throughout Semana Santa (Holy Week), 32 processions spend hours making their way through the Granada streets. Each procession is the pride and joy of a cofradía (brotherhood), which spends hoards of time, effort, and money perfecting their procession. Each procession typically has two elaborate sculptures: one depicting a scene from Christ's Passion and another depicting a young, mourning Virgin Mary. Now these aren't just simple sculptures- they're impeccable works of art by famous sculptors who are then set in lavish floats to be lugged through the city upon the shoulders of up to 40 men, called "costaleros."
Along with these floats marches a huge entourage. Robed penitents- often barefood- carry crosses or candles, brass bands set the atmosphere and the beat for the "costaleros" with their soulful music, and finally women donning traditional black garb are just a few of the essential parts that comprise the procession. One of Granada's most famous processions is that of the Gitanos (Gypsies), who make their way down from the hill-top Sacromonte Abbey, through the winding streets and steep hills of Sacromonte and the Albaicín, down the center's Carrera Oficial (Official Route) and finally to the Cathedral- where they turn around and do it all again in the opposite direction. Not an easy feat when it involves a huge float that requires the strength of so many men to get it around!
Cruces de Mayo
(Crosses of May)
When: May 3
Festival Description: Large, happy crowds of locals and visitors alike fill up the center and the Albaicín to capacity during this colorful celebration of religion and spring. Special groups, much like the Holy Week brotherhoods, slave over the annual decoration of their respective cross, which they then erect in a public square or courtyard. "Casetas" are set up nearby each cross (in the very same plaza or courtyard) where you can find the typical jubilant Andalucían antics and shenanigans: eating, drinking, partying, and dancing sevillanas.
Aside from these marvelous florally-decorated temporary crosses, fixed crosses also get a lavish makeover, as do the various plazas and courtyards. With people to impress and awards to be won, decoration during Cruces de Mayo becomes almost a marathon sport- you'll easily see why it's one of Granada's world-famous festivals!
Aniversario de Mariana Pineda
(Mariana Pineda Anniversary)
When: May 25
Festival Description: Outdoor dancing and a variety of cultural events mark the anniversary of the death of Granada's young political heroine Mariana Pineda. She was imprisoned and killed for her liberal beliefs, for conspiracy against the ultra-conservative government, and for her refusal to name her fellow liberal "conspirators."
(Celebration of the Corpus Christi)
When: June - Thursday following Trinity Sunday
Festival Description: While the origins of the Corpus Christi festival are undoubtedly religious, nowadays the Corpus Christi's importance as a popular "feria" very nearly eclipses the celebration's original Christian affiliation.
The Granada Feria is full of the typical light-hearted Andalucían festivities: dancing sevillanas, eating copious amounts of food, indulging in abundant quantities of wine and drink, cheering at top-notch bullfights, etc. While "casetas" are set up for this very purpose throughout the city center, the majority of the fun takes place in El Ferial, the extensive fairgrounds just on the outskirts of Granada. Plus, there's an lively annual market that sets up in the center for the duration of the Feria- definitely worth a walk-through or two!
Not surprisingly, this co-celebration of the Granada festival and the Corpus Christi features processions- because honestly, what would an Andalucían festival be without a procession or two? The first procession is folkloric and fun, featuring costumed giants and monsters, festive music, and the appearance of "La Tarasca," a gaudily- some might even say heinously- costumed female figure who rides atop a dragon.
Three days later, on Corpus Christi Sunday, another more solemn procession- something more along the lines of what the Catholic Church had in mind- passes through the city after morning church services. The religious undertones of this second procession, in which the Eucharist is the star, are unmistakeable.
Festival del Albaicín
When: June 29
Festival Description: Like a scene straight out of the past, pilgrims in traditional garb arrive on horses and in horse-carriages to the Albaicín's Ermita de San Miguel (San Miguel Hermitage).
Festival de Nuestra Señora de las Angustias
(Festival of Our Lady)
When: September (last Sunday of the month)
Festival Description: This festival, like many of Andalucía's festivals, is religious-themed. To celebrate the Virgin Mary, a beautiful procession much like those of Semana Santa passes through the city.
Conmemoración del Descubrimiento de América
(Commemoration of the Discovery of America)
When: October 12
Festival Description: The discovery of America drastically changed Spain's economic and political power- at least for a couple of centuries! To celebrate this important moment of Spanish history, Granada holds a festival featuring a flower offering at the Monumento de las Capitulaciones.
Nochebuena / Navidad
(Christmas Eve / Christmas)
When: December 24-25
Festival Description: Nochebuena (December 24) is celebrated amongst family and usually involves copious amounts fo eating and drinking in what is usually the biggest meal of the year. While a present or two from Santa Claus might make their way into your hands on Navidad (December 25), the day is basically spent relaxing and recovering from the previous night's activities.
(New Years Eve)
When: December 31-January 1
Festival Description: After a big family meal, young people take to the streets and head to Granada's main public squares- particularly the one in front of the Ayuntamiento (City Hall). Keep an eye on the clock and listen for the midnight chimes. The challenging and wholly entertaining Spanish tradition is to eat twelve grapes- one with each chime of the clock- before uncorking the champagne and toasting everyone around you!