Festa Major de Gracia: A Party for the People in Barcelona

Published on: September 24, 2017

Filled Under: Barcelona, Europe, Spain

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Castellers lend a hand
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Enter at your own risk
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Plastic repurposed
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Getting neighborly in Gracia
Photograph by: Susan Henry
It's the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Wheel good decorations
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Beware the hat eating devil
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Who let the dogs out?
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Moscow comes to Barcelona
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Ballads and bi-wings
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Gilded girls lead the way
Photograph by: Susan Henry
King Kong conquers the Festa Major de Gracia
Photograph by: Susan Henry
An elevated evildoer
Photograph by: Susan Henry
A big head takes a break in the plaza
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Acoustics and a crowd
Photograph by: Susan Henry
A storyteller steals the show
Photograph by: Susan Henry
Family fun at the Festa Major de Gracia
Photograph by: Susan Henry

A hush falls over the crowd at the Festa Major de Gracia.  The castellers gather in an adrenaline-charged circle.    From the center of the ring of humanity, a tower begins to take form.  As the structure rises, the torsos of the supporting castellers are all that stand between the climbers and the unforgiving cobblestone street below.

Seven ‘stories’ emerge before a young girl scrambles up the tower.   She wears only a modest helmet for protection.  Reaching the top, she raises one hand in salute.  Then, methodically, the improbable human structure collapses back upon itself.  The onlookers erupt in cheers.

Tradition, creativity, competition, teamwork:  the human tower, or castell, embodies the very nature of the Festa Major de Gracia.  For two hundred years, the citizens of  the Gracia district of Barcelona have gathered in August for this week-long celebration of the community.

Once an independent municipality, Gracia is now a part of greater Barcelona.  Still, Gracia stubbornly retains a charming, Old World character.  The district’s narrow streets invite pedestrians and deter tour buses.  At every intersection, there is a leafy plaza, an artisan shop or a local watering hole.

During the Festa Major de Gracia, approximately twenty of the neighborhood’s thoroughfares compete for the title of best decorated street.  The residents devote much of each year to the design and construction of the adornments, which draw inspiration from cinematic, social, political and religious themes.   The colorful, imaginative ornamentation is not high-tech.  Instead, the creators use simple, often recycled, components, such as plastic, paper mache and streamers.   Much of the embellishment hangs overhead from the residents’ roofs and balconies. Meanwhile, on the streets below, neighbors gather in long tables to play cards, tell stories, and share refreshments.

In addition to the street decoration contest, the Festa Major de Gracia includes as many as 600 scheduled events. The entire community comes alive with music concerts, food vendors and traditional craft workshops.  Spirited processions feature classic Catalan capgrossos, or ‘big head’ characters.  Drinking, dancing and partying dominate the nights, but the Festa Major de Gracia is very much a family affair.  Child-centered entertainment such as puppet shows, pottery piñatas and carnival rides are part of the daily revelry.

A highlight of the Festa Major de Gracia is the Correfoc, or Fire Run.  During the Correfoc, costumed ‘devils’ parade through the streets brandishing pitchforks armed with fireworks.  Spectators ‘dare the devils’, rushing forward in an attempt to get as close to the fires as possible.   For good reason, Festa Major de Gracia officials advise Correfoc attendees to wear earplugs and fire-retardant clothes.

The Festa Major de Gracia is an authentic, joyous party for the people.  For smart travelers who join the celebration, the Festa Major de Gracia is a chance experience Catalan tradition at its most genuine and jubilant.

 

For more information about the Festa Major de Gracia, visit http://www.festamajordegracia.cat/.  If you love the way the Spanish celebrate, check out Global Gallop’s story on Las Fallas in Valencia.

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