When you visit Barcelona, undoubtedly that a good way to enrich your stay is to spend a morning, an afternoon or, even better, an evening walking around the picturesque neighbourhood of Gràcia. But if you are in the city between the 14th and the 21st of August, you have to come over and enjoy its biggest festivity, which becomes more and more popular year after year.
This 2017 is also very special for Gràcia because it commemorates the bicentennial of the celebration, known as the ‘Festa Major’. Don’t miss the chance to discover why the event is so successful and charming at the same time. There is no doubt that the ‘Festa Major’ is the greatest pride of all the ‘graciencs’, which is how people from Gràcia are called.
Today we are going to review some of the most important facts and things of the celebration.
An eclectic programme of events
The ‘Festa Major de Gràcia’ transforms the streets that participate into venues for open-air concerts, places to have dinner or a snack, children’s play area and many other things. And one of the most fantastic things of all is that the residents are also the organisers of the range of activities that take place in their road when the festivity is on.
Barcelona’s Town Hall gives support to the Festa Major offering equipment, providing security and cleaning service, but does not intervene in the programme of events, a responsibility that is held by neighbour commissions, who also manage the available budget. It is important to know that a good part of this budget comes from the sale of drinks and food that they sell on the streets, most of the time sold by the residents themselves. Another source of income is to sell commemorative t-shirts of the Festa Major and similar memorabilia objects: There are even collectors of these objects who join Gràcia every year!
The decorated streets
One of the major attractions of the Festa Major de Gràcia is that each street is decorated following a certain item or topic, which is different every year. You can share a drink with a bunch of robots in a Science-Fiction theme, or feel like you are inside a circus with its clowns, acrobats or trained animals, or that you are in Venice.
The Imagination put into the streets is endless, and so is the sense of humour, as it is always a surprise to find out which subject each street has chosen. There is no place for improvisation, and neighbours almost start to think what they are going to do the following year even before the current Festa Major is still being celebrated.
The amazing art of recycling
When the topic is chosen, it’s time to design the structure and elements and think ‘how’ it’s going to be done. One of the marvellous and magic facts about the decorated streets of Gràcia is that most of the ornaments have to be done with recycled materials. During the year is not uncommon to be asked by the party commission not to throw plastic bottles or beer badges to the bin. With tons of creativity and certain skills, they can become a tropical flower or the pieces of a huge mosaic. An anecdote to keep you aware: «I still remember, two years ago, in a street that became a typical Mediterranean seaside town during those days, how I looked carefully into a fishing hook-trap, with several little hooks attached on it and hanging down… the whole piece was painted in a metallic copper tone, so it was difficult, but not impossible, to distinguish non-used tampons transformed into little hooks.
So, apart from admiring the result as a whole, it’s always advisable to take your time and also focus on the little tiny details. Be sure that you will get surprised.
Rivalry between ‘graciencs’
A ‘plus’ to reach excellence on the specific theme and the decoration of the streets is that there is a prestigious competition going on. An apparently healthy rivalry between neighbours gives the celebration an upper-grace of excitement, and loads of ‘gossip’ and comments during the whole week. One of the most awaited moments for the locals is when the jury makes its verdict public. A moment, that takes place in ‘Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia’ and when total joy and deep disappointment explode at the same time.
There is also a ‘bet’ between visitors and neighbours -based on their own opinion-, about which street will be the winner, which sometimes is not the same street which actually deserves to be the champion.
200 years after: a Tribute to the origins
A good way to pay tribute to the tradition is to represent it as similar as possible how Gràcia looked like in their primitive festivity. Visitors during this year’s Festa Major will have the opportunity to see how the neighbours used to decorate the streets two-hundred years ago. As you can imagine, plastic bottles or ‘Nespresso’ capsules did not exist back in 181, so the decorations were based on real flowers, plants and tree branches, a technique that was called ‘enramar’. The result was quite spectacular, because the streets were covered with a majestic vegetation awning. A street called Francisco Giner will have to honour to retrieve this curious and beautiful in result folklore element.
Historic note: the most ancient Picture kept from a decorated street in Gràcia was precisely of an ‘enramat’ Francisco Giner street. The photo was taken in 1894.
Festa Major de Gràcia will also have, like it had many decades ago, what is known as ‘envelat’, a big tent that tried to imitate the sophisticated dance halls of the high society.
Curiosity: In one of these ‘envelats’, located in Plaça del Sol, a young Tom Jones performed during the Gràcia celebration. It was back in 1966 and, as you can imagine, the gig was a total success. That ‘envelat’ had a capacity for 2,000 people, wooden floor and a big stage for the performers and musicians.
Last but not least, as a novelty, Gran de Gràcia will host, after many years without doing it, activities for the Festa Major. It will also have a commemorative decoration for the bicentenary. With 22 participating streets and squares and almost a thousand programmed activities, 750 of which will be held during the day, there is no doubt that Festa Major de Gràcia 2017 is going to be an event to remember.