The Gràcia Festival, or La Festa Major de Gràcia, is an annual celebration taking place in the lovely, bohemian neighbourhood of Gràcia in uptown Barcelona. Organized between the 15th and 21st of August, the barrio’s lavishly decorated streets and the festival’s many activities await locals and foreigners, families and groups of friends alike.

But where does this unique 200-year-old tradition come from? We’ve put together a short history lesson about the Gràcia Festival, complete with a guide to everything it has in store for visitors this year.

 

The history of the Gràcia Festival

 

The week-long street festival has its roots in the 19th century. It was first celebrated in 1817, starting on August 15, the Day of the Assumption of Mary. This day still marks the official commencement of the festivities each year.

At the time, Gràcia was still an independent town (until its annexation by Barcelona in 1897), and its inhabitants decorated the streets in a spectacular fashion, with handmade ornaments and works of important artists.

In the past 200 years, the festival has evolved in many ways. During the year 1975, for a brief moment, it even became a politicized event, celebrating democracy and Catalan culture during the oppression of Franco.

Its religious aspect has faded to make way for a more secular, mainstream festival that attracts locals and tourists alike. However, the core value of the festival continues to be community and togetherness.

 

The Gràcia Festival today

 


 

More than a tradition, the Gràcia Festival has become a cultural phenomenon in Barcelona. Every year, the streets of Gràcia are adorned with handmade decorations made from recycled materials. Each street (22 of them are taking part this year) picks its own theme and tries to “out-decorate” the others to win the title of the most uniquely decorated street in Gràcia.

Scenes from a magical underwater world, the age of dinosaurs, the Roman Empire, the hippie movement of the sixties, a fairytale world of dragons and princesses and more wonders come alive in the narrow streets. You may find yourself walking into a papier-mâché jungle or a spaceship made of plastic bottles at any given moment. These days, the participants are getting so creative that even a DIY zombie apocalypse in the middle of the barrio isn’t unheard of!

However fascinating the decorations may be, they’re not the only protagonists of the festival. La Festa Major is also famous for its activities for adults and children, music concerts, pop-up theatre performances, street food, castells (human towers “built” by acrobatic street performers) and of course, the unmissable correfoc (the infamous “fire run” where people dressed as devils parade the streets, throwing fireworks).

Here are all the festival highlights that you shouldn’t miss this year!

 

What to do at the Gràcia Festival in 2019

 

Attend the Opening Parade

When: Thursday, 15th August 2019, 18:45-20:00

Where: Starting from Gran de Gràcia, ending in Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia

The Opening Parade, or Cercavila de Cultura Popular, is the biggest parade of the Gràcia Festival. The procession features all the unmissable characters of Catalan street parades: giants (gegants), dragons (dracs), big-heads (caps grossos), stick dancers (bastoners), human tower builders (castellers) and more. If you’re a fan of joyous noise-making and intricate costumes, you’ll love the atmosphere of this summer carnival.

 

See the castellers in action

When: Saturday, 17th August 2019

Where: Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia

Don’t miss the Diada Castellera de Festa Major, the festival’s biggest castellers performance. The building of castells or human towers – people standing on each other’s shoulders to form a tall, stable structure – is a Catalan tradition that has been around since the 18th century. Groups of people (colles) would get together on the square in front of the town hall on Sundays at midday and erect human towers with great precision and technique. To this day, castellers from all over Catalonia wow spectators with extraordinary feats. At Gràcia Festival, you’ll have the chance to see them in action.

 

Experience the correfoc

When: 21st August, 2019

Where: Starting on Plaça Trilla, finishing on Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia

However dangerous a fire-run may sound, correfocs are traditionally held at every big cultural festival in Catalonia. Participants dressed as devils and monsters throw sparks and fireworks in the air and chase spectators. It’s a unique festive tradition originating from Catalan folklore, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Make sure you wear long-sleeves and possibly a hoody to protect your skin from burns!

 

Dance at a live concert

Every evening during the Grácia Festival – especially on Friday and Saturday – the neighbourhood turns into a large, open-air party. Walk from stage to stage and then check out all the bands playing live before you commit to dancing in front of any particular one! Whether it’s salsa or rock and roll, everyone will find their favourite genre.

This year’s performers will include Joan Colomo, Rombo, Power Burkas, Aliment and Dj Waterparties.

 

Grab a bite and a drink

Botifarra, fideuà, paella… These are all Catalan specialities best enjoyed in a large group. Join Gràcia’s chefs who will be cooking up a storm on the streets of the Festival, and grab a plate of the community-size rice or noodle dish complete with fresh seafood. You can also take part in authentic Argentinian barbecues, taste Catalonian wines and even try some artisanal chocolate. Make sure you wash down all that food with a cocktail or a beer!

Are you interested in learning more about Catalan traditions? Read our post about the Day of Sant Jordi, too!

Glossary for Language Learners

 

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Lavish (adj):: elaborate, extravagant.

Commencement (noun): the beginning of an event or ceremony.

Annexation (noun): the action of seizing or taking control of territory.

Secular (adj): worldly, non-religious.

Out + verb (adv.): Out + verb means to do something better than someone (e.g. out-do, out-perform, out-decorate).

Unheard of (exp): something that has never been seen or done before.

Procession (noun): a group moving in an orderly fashion, as part of a ceremony.

Intricate (adj): complex, detailed.

Erect (v): set something upright, build something straight.

Faint of heart (exp): someone who doesn’t have the courage to face a potentially dangerous situation.

Cook up a storm (exp): do something with a lot of enthusiasm and energy.

Key

adj = adjective

n = noun

adv = adverb

exp = expression

v = verb

exp = expression

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