Get ready for a total immersion in Catalan culture this weekend at La Festa Major de Gràcia – Barcelona‘s biggest and most colorful neighborhood festival. Although fundamentally for the locals, by the locals, this weeklong event (from August 15-21) is not your average local fair: every August, it attracts over a million visitors to the narrow streets and small squares of the Gràcia district.
Away from the usual tourist trail, Gràcia breathes at a different pace. A separate town until the late 19th century, the laid-back – and very Catalan – barri still has a quaint village-like feel to it. But every year, starting on Assumption Day, the area erupts into a full-scale street party as its residents – from older Catalan people who have spent their whole lives in the neighborhood, to young families, artists, free thinkers, fashionistas and hipsters – take to the streets to celebrate their much-loved community. This effectively translates to a creative explosion of extravagance as Gràcia gets dressed for the big fiesta. Add a great dose of effervescent good humor into the mix, and you get a wonderful carnival-style atmosphere.
Testament to this is the annual street-decorating contest, where prizes are awarded to the best decorated street, square and balcony. This competition is not taken lightly, to say the least! Organized in different groups, Gràcia’s residents work on the ornaments for months prior to the event and showcase their creative talents by using mostly recycled materials. The result is absolutely astounding, especially after dark, when the lights are switched on and the magic truly comes alive.
Coming across a giant or a brightly colored dragon is a perfectly normal occurrence during the festival, reinforcing the impression that you’ve been transported into a fantasy world. With a program of more than 500 activities for children and grown-ups alike, including creative workshops and games, the event is sure to keep everyone entertained. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to experience many aspects of Catalan culture: you will see sardanas, the traditional folk dance, or bastoners, dancing with sticks. You will encounter trabucaires, the bandits of bygone days, firing loud shots into the air, and you will get chased by devils brandishing spinning fireworks during the correfocs. You will also hear drummers and grallers, who play traditional pipes. Finally, don’t miss the human towers, one of Catalonia’s most unusual spectacles. Reaching up to 8 or 9 people in height, the castells, as they’re known, will take your breath away.
Amid all the excitement, you will, of course, be able to satisfy your appetite at one of the many food stalls. And while the main plazas turn into all-night concert venues, cerveza and sangria will flow, contributing to the general merriness. Enjoy!
For a full program, check the festival’s website (only available in Catalan).
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