If there is one time of year that defines the heart of Sevilla, Spain, it’s la Feria de abril. This April festival, celebrated in various cities but most famously in Sevilla, originated in the 1800s as a livestock trade, with shared food and drink in true Spanish fashion. Since then, it has evolved into a week-long celebration of Spanish traditions: family and friends, flamenco, and food and wine. Between la Semana Santa and la Feria, I got two spring breaks during my semester, but I chose not to travel at all during la Feria because I wanted to experience every bit of the week. And I’m so glad I stayed in Sevilla, because I got to go to the rose-filled Parque de Maria Luisa and la Plaza de España every single day.
I started off the celebrations at a local bar, where the bartender that our study abroad group had gotten to know was throwing a party for some friends. Not just any party, but a fiesta de pelucas, a wig party. Meghan, the other student not traveling that day, and I found some great neon green and blue wigs, learned the basics of the sevilliana form of flamenco, and tasted our first rebujito, a blend of manzanilla sherry and Sprite that is traditional for la Feria. Somewhere there are some wig photos, but I just can’t seem to find them, oh darn 😉
As a nod to the livestock trade origin, La Feria officially kicks off with families parading in horse-drawn carriages through the major streets of the city. But the real celebration begins with el Alumbrao, the lighting of a huge archway entrance to the fairgrounds that is modeled after a different building in the city each year. The grounds are divided into a typical fair with carnival rides and games, and rows of striped casetas. Casetas are elaborate, mostly privately-owned tents where Spaniards host dinner and dancing for their family and friends. There are a few public ones with bars-like the ones sponsored by political parties-but luckily for our group we were able to get into some nicer ones through some people we knew. In some other cities there are more public casetas, but in Sevilla you see the more traditional, somewhat class-based model.
Sevilla is a constant back and forth between modernity and tradition, but for la Feria, Spaniards dress in traditional flamenco wear. For women, that means a flamenco dress (polka dots are popular, as well as floral patterns), heels, flowers for your hair, and bright plastic jewelry. I tried unsuccessfully to find a colorful flamenco dress-first with the help of my host mom and her closet and then at a secondhand shop-but I guess I’m just not the shape for those beautiful dresses. Or maybe we had just consumed too much bread and gelato by April. Next time. Nevertheless, I had fun helping my roommate pick out a dress and taking photos of everyone as they learned how perfect these dresses are for spinning.
Our TCU group enjoyed a night or two of the carnival side of the fairgrounds, but my favorite part was walking among the rows of casetas, dancing into the early hours of the morning, and just soaking up the culture around me. The best moment was seeing an elderly couple elegantly dance the sevilliana outside, because nothing keeps you young like love and dance 🙂
Spaniards know how to party, that’s for sure. Many people stay out until 6 or 7 a.m. each night of the week. One of my professors at la UPO told us that extra pop-up churro stands open during la Feria because “you stay up all night and then go get churros for breakfast to absorb the alcohol.” He wasn’t wrong, haha. Although I definitely did not keep up with that pace throughout the week, la Feria de abril was one of the best experiences of my study abroad time, and one of the times that I felt like a true sevillana with a sense that life is something to be celebrated. It may be January right now, but already I’m dreaming of spring and thinking of what the Spaniards say as April approaches: Ya huele a la Feria…