About the Spanish Bank Holiday calendar…
The first thing to know about bank holidays in Spain is that they are divided into three different categories depending on whether they are national or local, and whether they have to be observed in all the different regions (or Autonomous Communities) or if there is room for change. There are usually seven dates in the calendar which are national bank holidays observed across the whole of Spain. Many of these correspond to important dates in the Christian calendar and are observed in other Christian countries across the world. There are a further five dates which may be swapped for another important date by the local authority. Last but not least, each local authority has the right to select two days a year which will be local bank holidays. So there are certain bank holidays which are observed in Barcelona but aren’t observed in Girona for example.
January 6th: Epiphany
This date is celebrated across Catalonia and is in many households the most important day of celebration at Christmas time. It marks the day that presents are shared. The custom of present giving that day symbolises the gifts given by the Three Wise Kings to the new born Jesus. This is celebrated in many towns and cities with a parade of the Three Kings on the evening of the 5th during which the generous visitors share sweets and treats with their eager on-lookers.
March/ April: Easter Monday
Falling exactly the day after Easter, Easter Monday is a bank holiday in Catalunya and many other Christian countries around the world. Historically celebrations following Easter would have lasted up to a week but since the 19th century these have in many places been condensed to just one day. In addition to special religious services, Catalans typically tuck into a special cake known as ‘La Mona de Pascua’ which boasts colorful painted eggs as well as candied fruits and decorations.
May / June: ‘Second Easter’ (the Monday before Pentecost)
This date is variable and is not celebrated in every locality of Catalonia but is nearly always celebrated in Barcelona. It falls on the Monday before Pentecost. As it is up to the local authorities to decide when the bank holidays in the area will be celebrated, it often arrives that the celebration of ‘Second Easter’ has been moved to another date for convenience.
June 24th: Day of Saint Joan
This is probably the loudest celebration in the Catalan calendar as it is customary on this day to celebrate the life of Saint Joan with bangers and fire-work displays. Although the bank holiday is typically observed on June 24th, it’s the night of the 23rd when most of the celebrations usually take place. In addition to the pyrotechnic aspect of the celebration there is a special cake known as ‘Coca de Sant Joan’ which it is customary to eat accompanied by a glass of locally produced Cava.
September 11th: La Diada / The National Day of Catalunya
This is the official celebration of the province of Catalunya and marks the anniversary of the defeat of the Catalan troops to the forces of the Bourbon King Phillip V. After a 14 month siege, the city of Barcelona was eventually defeated on September 11th , 1714 at which time the Catalan constitution was dissolved and the province lost its official autonomy. This is a popular celebration among Catalan nationalists and there are a number of processions and demonstrations organized across the area.
September 24th: La Mercè
This celebration is truly unique to the city of Barcelona, and is a week long homage to the co-patron saint of the city, the Virgin of Grace, known as ‘Mare de Déu de la Mercè‘ in Catalan, hence the name ‘La Mercè‘. Although only the 24th is usually a bank holiday, a whole program of activities takes place across the city in the days building up to La Mercè including the Ball of the Giants (Los Gegantes), fire parades known as ‘Correfocs‘ and the impressive human towers known as ‘Castellers‘.
October 12th: Columbus Day
This is a bank holiday across Spain and in many Latin American countries in celebration of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America. Although this day had long been celebrated unofficially in many places, it’s only since the 20th century that October 12th has been declared an official bank holiday in Spain.
December 6th: Day of the Spanish Constitution
This is possibly the most recent of bank holidays to be celebrated in Spain, since it marks the anniversary of the 1978 referendum when the Spanish people voted for a new constitution which paved the way for the transition towards democracy after years of dictatorship at the hands of General Franco. This important event is marked each year by special history classes and events in schools, as well as readings of the constitution and parliamentary celebrations.
December 8th: Day of the Immaculate Conception
This day is marked in Catholic countries the world over and celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary in the Christian faith. According to this belief, the Virgin Mary was conceived free of original sin due to an intervention by God at the time of her conception. This is a religious celebration during which believers attend church for a special ceremony to mark the important date.
December 26th: Sant Esteve
The equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon ‘Boxing Day’ celebration, the Day of Sant Stephen, or ‘Sant Esteve’ in Catalan, is celebrated on December 26th. Saint Stephen is believed to be the first Christian martyr. An integral part of Christmas celebrations in Catalonia, it is traditional to gather with friends and family for a meal of cannelloni stuffed with leftover meats from the main Christmas meal are served; along with ‘Escudella de Nadal‘, a special soup with a large meatball inside.
In addition to these dates, Catalunya and the rest of Spain also observe bank holidays on the following dates:
January 1st: New Year’s Day
March/ April: Good Friday (the Friday before Easter)
May 1st: May Day
August 15th: Assumption of Mary
November 1st: All Saints’ Day
December 25th: Christmas Day