Newly arrived expats living in Spain and the Canary Islands will quickly learn that expat lives are punctuated with fiestas to celebrate the life of a particular saint or a special period in Spanish and Canarian history.
Despite the irritation that fiestas can creep up on the unsuspecting expat, ruining plans to go shopping or to visit the bank, they are an intrinsic part of Spanish life and the wise expat soon learns to join in with the moment.
Initially, many expats think that the day of the fiesta is when it all happens. This is a big mistake and new expats quickly learn that fiestas actually begin during the late afternoon and evening on the day before.
This is sensible, because it leaves plenty of time to dress up, do the cooking and to gather family and friends together before the actual event. In reality of course, for many people the actual day of the fiesta is spent recovering from the night before. Fiestas are fun and add to the rich fabric and pattern of life in Spain, as well as creating a pause from the usual frenetic pace of life. After all, in Spain and the Canary Islands, life is for living.
There has been a special fiesta for the whole island of Gran Canaria this week, but it is particularly special for the residents of a pretty town in the north of the island called Teror (not to be confused with terror!).
The Virgin of the Pine is the patron saint of Gran Canaria and this fiesta is based upon the story of the Virgin Mary, who made an appearance many years ago.
It was on 8 September 1492 that an image of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in a pine tree to Juan Frias, who was the first Bishop of Gran Canaria. Later, a large church was built near to where this pine tree grew, and it is still there today.
The original pine tree died a long time ago, but there are more pine trees in the town near to the church. The Lady of the Pine, or Nuestra Señora del Pino, is said to possess healing qualities, and in true Catholic fund-raising tradition, it is possible to buy wax models of every part of the human body that can be offered for healing.
Visitors to the church will find a beautiful statue of the Virgin, which is taken out of the church in a religious procession every year on 8 September. On this day, people from all across the island come to this small town for a very big fiesta celebration. Religious or not, many visitors discover that when they are facing the statue of the Virgin it has a powerful and moving effect upon them.
It is also rather extraordinary, since one side of the face is smiling and the other side is sad. The statue has many jewels, but in 1975 there was a robbery at the church and some jewels were stolen from the statue and never recovered.
Thousands of pilgrims joined the procession this week, and many arrived for celebrations on the eve of the fiesta. One of the customs are parrandas or groups of people who move between different places singing traditional songs; others join them to make the singing group larger.
This tradition comes from the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, where many people from the Canary Islands moved to many years ago for work. They later returned home and brought with them some of these Caribbean islands’ cultures and traditions.
This year’s parrandas started with traditional music, but then went on to more modern reggaetron. The singing leads to people dancing until they are ready for refreshment in the local bars. These pilgrims often arrive in Teror by car or bus, but many make the journey on foot, and some this year have been seen dancing in the middle of the GC21 road. Sensibly, for the safety of pilgrims, the main road to Teror was closed to traffic for the evening.
It is noticeable that the traditional grip of the Catholic Church upon people in Spain and the Canary Islands is fast diminishing, and it is rare to see many people attending church on Sundays as used to be the case, particularly during the Franco years.
Despite this, it is clear that many Canarians maintain a strong spiritual basis in their lives and continue to be moved and inspired by stories of the saints and religious events, which they celebrate with vigour and enthusiasm. Above all, they enjoy a good party!
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney