What's on in Frigiliana... San Sebastian Semana Santa 3 Cultures Fest
Parade of the Three Kings
The Parade of the Three Kings (Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos) is a Christmas tradition held on the 5th and 6th of January in all Spanish towns with a parade through the town of the Three Kings.
With the new year underway again, the children will again be the stars in the two days that put an end to the Christmas celebrations.
On the 5th the Magi (the Three Kings) will traverse the streets of Frigiliana on horseback.
Frigiliana’s parade usually starts at 4.30 in the Plaza de la Iglesia and ends at the Salon de Usos Multiples, where children are given gifts. During the parade the kings throw sweets to children in the crowd, who are usually seen hurriedly trying to fill up carrier bags with them.
Then on January 6th they will again be the centre of attention for last day of festivities.
There’s usually lots of things going on for kids during these two days, such as bouncy castles being erected and even human table football!
San Sebastián fiesta
The celebrations, in honour of Frigiliana’s patron saint, St. Sebastián, take place around the 20th of January with a procession, a Mass, then music, dancing and fireworks.
One of the most traditional celebrations in Frigiliana, until 1967 this was the day in which the feria was held, known as ‘La Función’. However, given the usual inclement weather at this time of year it was decided to move the feria element of the celebrations to June 13th, keeping on January 20th, solely the acts in honour of the patron. Nevertheless, in the days prior to the actual celebration, some semblances of the original feria still take place.
So, a few days prior to the 20th, the statue of San Sebastián leaves from the chapel that bears his name (Capilla de San Sebastián), and is then carried to the church of San Antonio, accompanied by the municipal band. The following day there is the usual ‘Blessing’ of animals in the church square.
From 2018 all the more feria-like events take place in the marquee tent installed in the Parque de Andalucía – once of course the mass in honour of the patron saint has been concluded in the church… So, taking place in the marquee will be lots of dancing and music groups, and perhaps even a few comedians and a magician for good measure!
One of the most popular festivals with the people of Frigiliana, who are certainly not reticent in getting dressed up in all sorts of outlandish costumes, then holding various parades and celebrations.
Carnival is usually held in February but as its based around the date for Shrove Tuesday, dates change every year. Moreover, its done slightly differently in Frigiliana because the festival, which usually marks the beginning of Lent, is celebrated here a few days after Lent has already begun… That may well be done in order not to clash with other local villages doing their own carnivals, but certainly in Frigiliana their Carnival celebration has blossomed in recent years, and is greatly looked forward to by both residents and visitors. As in other villages, it is an irreverent and unruly fiesta with ample opportunities to enjoy oneself!
Another uniqueness about Frigiliana’s celebration is due to its rather demanding geography – steep cobbled streets aren’t the easy things to negotiate when you might be wearing a heavy costume and goodness knows what on your feet! But of course its all part of the fun.
Carnival begins with a procession of hundreds of people in fancy dress making their noisy way through just about every street of the village, starting from the newer part of Frigiliana then slowly winding their way to the historic centre, accompanied by music, drums and rattles. Eventually they end up in a specially erected marquee tent in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. At which point, the fiesta really begins continuing into ‘la madrugada’ (the small hours). Prizes are of course awarded for the best costumes, a decision that apparently is getting harder every year as both individuals and groups are becoming more and more imaginative with their costumes, preferring to make their own rather than buy standard outfits from shops.
March / April:
In Frigiliana, Semana Santa is taken very seriously in terms of creating the full experience of Jesus’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. The village’s narrow streets mean that the processions are very close to the onlookers, and therefore the atmosphere becomes very charged. It is certainly a very moving experience, and highly recommended.
The Semana Santa observances and processions begin on the Friday before Palm Sunday, before the actual events which constitute the actual Holy Week. On this Friday, known as ‘el Viernes de Dolores’ (Friday of the Sorrows), one sees the brotherhood going in procession dressed in black robes and hoods in the pharaonic style, with hoods hanging down their backs.
On ‘el Domingo de Ramos’ (Palm Sunday), the observances begin with the blessing of olive and palm branches in the Chapel of San Sebastián, next to the cemetery. The penitents then go in procession through the streets to the parish church, San Antonio de Padua, where mass is celebrated.
On ‘El Jueves Santo’ (Holy Thursday), the mass of the Last Supper is held in the San Antonio church, during which the priest washes the feet of twelve villagers, who represent the apostles, and are dressed in robes and masks, (some of which date back to the 18th century). This is followed by a procession of the statues of Jesus the Nazarene, the Christ of the Cane Fields, and Our Lady of the Sorrows.
Without doubt the most solemn day, and the one which gives Holy Week its special significance, is ‘Vera Cruz’ (the True Cross, which we know as Good Friday). After celebrating the ‘vía crucis’ (route of the Cross), through the streets of the town, a mass is held in the church at sunset, which reenacts the death of Christ and the taking down of his body from the cross. This is followed at nightfall by the procession of the body of Jesus, resting in his sarcophagus.
But what usually brings thousands of people flocking onto the streets is the procession of ‘La Soledad’ (The Desolation), open to any woman, married or single, with the only stipulation that she wears black, mourning clothes. This procession, which takes to the streets immediately after the end of the procession of the Holy Sepulchre, plunges the entire old part of the village into total darkness. Then, lit only by the flickering candles, hundreds of black-clad women sing hymns to Mary.
La Hermandad del Resucitado (the Brotherhood of the Risen Christ), brings Holy Week to a close on Easter Sunday. The members of this brotherhood, founded in 1988, wear white robes and hoods with green capes, and process in the full midday sun, accompanied by the Frigiliana town band. Meanwhile the statues of ‘Jesús Resucitado’ (The Risen Christ), and la Virgen de la Aurora (Our Lady of the New Dawn), have rose petals thrown over them from the people lining the streets or on the flower-decked balconies, in celebration of the new life heralded by the death of Christ on Good Friday. Read more about the tradition of the Holy Week in Spain
Dia de la Caballo
Celebrations for El Dia de la Caballo (Day of the Horse), usually take place at the Cañada del Ingenio on a Saturday around the first of May, though occasionally they’re held a couple of weekends earlier in April. It really is a festival with the horse at its centre. There are exhibitions of equestrian dressage with prizes for the best dressed riders, as well as horse taming.
The festival starts start around 11.00 in the morning and lasting until late afternoon, offering locals and visitors a whole compendium of activities related to the horse, and involving local associations and clubs in the area. At lunchtime you’ll also be able to sample a good selection of home made food of Frigiliana, in a specially erected marquee.
Dia de la Miel de Caña / Crosses of May
Día de la Miel de Caña
The first edition of Frigiliana’s culinary festival, Día de la Miel de Caña (Day of Sugarcane Honey), was celebrated in 2014, and was a great success. Another first that year was the opening of the doors of the El ingenio Nuestra Señora del Carmen sugar cane honey factory to the public. This is now a main attraction of the festival and a free guided tour is given around the premises showing the old machinery, boilers and rooms used in the process of making honey.
As you’ll see in the ‘What’s On’ sections of other Axarquian villages there are many ‘gastronomic festivals’ nowadays in the province, but given that this one in Frigiliana features the last working cane honey factory in Europe, this is a worthy addition.
Naturally the festival activities take place around the Plaza de Ingenio, upon which a stage is erected and where various acts – Rociero choirs, flamenco dancing and popular regional dances – can be seen from the morning until nightfall.
Throughout the day visitors have the opportunity to try, free of charge, a wide array of culinary delights that use cane honey as the main ingredient, prepared in the square by the ladies of Frigiliana. Two of the favourites are: arropía, a kind of caramel made of honey, and popcorn coated with solidified honey. For those wanting to try alternative dishes that also use honey as the main ingredient, there are several participating restaurants in the village that offer wonderful dishes.
The main activities of Día de la Miel de Caña take place from around 10:00 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon, though, as mentioned above, the entertainment on the main stage goes on all day. From 3.30 the traditional Crosses of May festival officially starts (see below for details).
El ingenio and cane honey
Sugarcane is a plant from Southeast Asia. It was taken to the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs, then cultivated mainly around the Malaga and Granada province’s coastline.
At the beginning of the 17th century there was already a sugar factory in Frigiliana called San Raimundo, of which there are still a few remains of today. In 1720 though, industrial activity was transferred to the Nuestra Señora del Carmen mill, located in the Palacio de los Manrique de Lara building, the ancestral home of the Counts of Frigiliana. In 1928 the company De la Torre, SA was founded and acquired the factory. The Ingenio is now the only working sugar cane honey producer in Europe – here is their website.
Miel de caña is obtained by compressing the sugarcane with rollers causing the juice to flow out. This is then cooked to evaporate the water, eliminate the impurities, and produce a concentrate. The final product has a texture similar to bee’s honey and has a very pleasant flavour.
For those interested in its nutritional values, cane honey is a very complete food, rich in calcium salts, vitamin B, low sugars and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and iron. Like real honey, it can be kept for a long time even once the container has been opened. It is used as a natural sweetener in yoghurts, cottage cheese, fresh cheese, curd, etc, as well as being very useful in baking and cooking. Note that due to modern regulations (via EU pedants), it should be called ‘juice concentrate from the sugar cane’ and not cane honey…
Crosses of May
In the afternoon, after the main activities of Miel de Caña Day have finished, the celebrations continue with the Crosses of May Day, an ancient festival traditionally celebrated on May 3rd.
Again, the hospitality of the citizens of Frigiliana is shown to the full thanks to all the food that is offered free of charge to visitors as they visit the various crosses dotted around the village; tasty treats such as chorizo, potato omelette, and black pudding, as well as other dishes in which cane honey again is again featured. Washed down of course with the famous sweet ‘country’ wine, known locally as ‘terreno’, (and personally, I’ve always rated Frigiliana’s version of this wine – that’s produced all over the province – over many others).
The Flower crosses are made by local people and adorn the streets of the village. Indeed, Frigiliana is particularly famous for its celebration of May Crosses – every plaza has a large wooden cross adorned with Spanish shawls, plants and flowers.
In the late afternoon the town band, along with the ‘Panda de Verdiales’ musical groups, play and sing popular songs including traditional ‘tunas’, as they wander around the village. Each one is required to stop at each of the crosses, entertaining visitors and residents alike, before they finish up at the Plaza de la Iglesia. All of which gives the celebration some essential tints of tradition, fun and colour.
This event usually continues through the night until daybreak the following day, surely one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable events for any visitor to the village throughout the year. Read more on the origins of the Cross of May celebrations in Spain.
Feria de San Antonio
Just over 50 years ago Frigiliana’s council decided to move its original feria called La Función (held on the festival day of San Sebastian in January), to the day in June when the the village celebrates its other patron saint, San Antonio de Padua. It was decided that January really wasn’t a good month for ferias given the likely inclement weather.
The San Antonio festivities, which typically last for five days, are highlighted by concerts, contests, and the selection of the homecoming ‘queen’ and ‘knight’. There are popular classic games for children, such as races involving ribbons, eggs and pots, and activities like bouncy castles and what has become the craze over recent years in Axarquia villages – the outdoor foam party!
Another recent innovation is the use of the new La Horca football ground as an improvised water park. In 2018 changes were made to make this ‘Fiesta del Agua’ even more fun, with a large water slide and various castles and water attractions constructed, (see photo below).
Up until recently there has been a bull run which took place around 8.00 in the morning, which was a chance for the local lads to play ‘catch’ with half a ton of bull chasing them down the street. However, in the last few years it has been cancelled due to healthy and safety issues.
However, June 13th is the big day of the feria – being the saint’s day – and it’s celebrated with a romería, where everyone goes on a parade through Frigiliana out into the countryside for a picnic. It is quite a spectacle as the figure of San Antonio de Padua, mounted on a flower-decked oxcart, accompanies the revellers all around the village and then down into the gorge of the River Higuerón to a site known as El Pozo Viejo (the old well).
The rest of the day is then spent, eating, drinking and taking part in competitions and other activities. This tradition, which commemorates the victory of the Christians over the Moors at the battle at the Peñón de Frigiliana in June 1569, is now a far more peaceful opportunity for the people of the village and visitors to unite together in the shade of the pine trees to enjoy a leisurely lunch. The fiesta culminates with a magnificent display of fireworks.
Festival de 3 Culturas
Frigiliana’s Festival of Three Cultures was created in 2006, the idea coming from the town’s local council, who wanted a fiesta combining culture, cuisine, music and theatre that showcased the village as a unique tourist destination. They also wanted to highlight that Frigiliana was renown, prior to the Christian reconquest, for being a centre where Muslims, Jews and Christians – ie, three cultures – lived peacefully together for hundreds of years. In fact, to reinforce the point, there are even lectures during the festival on themes related to the three cultures.
The festival is held for four days at the end of August each year. During this time, the customs, music and gastronomy of the three different cultures are offered. In fact there’s something for everyone – old or young, resident or visitor – and the musical events don’t feature the usual run-of-the-mill acts you’d normally see at such events, but first class groups and individuals are booked to play.
All the bars and restaurants take part in the highly successful Tapas Run, serving up delicious local specialities. Plus, some of the best chefs from Málaga are invited to take part in a gastronomic contest.
A street market offers all kinds of handmade products, while street musicians, jugglers, belly dancers and circus attractions recreate a medieval feel to the village.
This event has become enormously popular throughout the region and beyond, now attracting around 20,000 visitors each year.
Día de las Candelarias
Día de las Candelarias was usually celebrated in the countryside when bonfires were burnt in the fields by groups of families and friends. Due to fire regulations a ban curtailed this part of the celebrations, although one could still see fires lit in the courtyards of houses in the countryside in the autumn dusk.
A few years ago, Frigiliana council decided to resurrect this old festival, not only the bonfires but the musical aspect of it when in the past people would sing around the fires. Now though, professional concerts are given, with displays of the traditional music and songs, to the beat of the zambombas and the almireces (traditional percussion instruments).
There is also a market with lots of stalls selling local products (a ‘Mercado Artesanal’), which you can sample and then buy. Another staple of this festival is the roasted sweet potatoes, which are distributed free of charge to those attending. Also look out for the rag dolls made by locals, very typical of this celebration in other villages, which are eventually burnt on the fires!
The celebration starts at 7.00 pm, with the live music from 8.30 pm, and the (officially managed) bonfires lit around 9.30 pm. There is also a good chance that a few fireworks will also be let off during the course of the day!