What's on in Nerja... Three Kings Carnival Semana Santa Crosses of May San Isidro San Juan Virgen del Carmen Autumn Feria
Parade of the Three Kings
In Spain, the Three Kings parade is called ‘La Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos’, a Christmas tradition held on the 5th and 6th of January, with a parade through the town of the Three Kings.
In Nerja, the parade is on the evening of the 5th January, usually around 5 pm, starting from the Balcon de Europa. It is tradition for local businesses to donate bags of sweets, even toys, which are then thrown by the kings from their floats, (watch out they can come at quite a speed!).
Children and even adults, often come to the parade clutching carrier bags which they then fill to the brim with sweets.
Thirty years of dressing Nerja’s Three Kings
Encarnación Garcia was 28 when she first helped organise and dress the Three Kings in the mid-1950’s, and is still carrying on the tradition today. The following article was first published in Insight Magazine in Nerja in 2004.
“The Three Kings didn’t arrive in Nerja until 1956, and many said it was cheaper to dress up as Father Christmas than the Three Kings… Being such a small village, many didn’t think it was worth the effort. However, three well known shopkeepers, Antonio Som Cerezo, Paco Ruiz and Pepe Gomez organised the first parade in the hope of increasing sales in their shops but as it was in December, it wasn’t really a proper Cabalgata de Los Reyes.
In the 1960’s they started to arrive in Nerja at their designated time – the 6th January. We wanted to rescue our traditions and roots, we wanted to organise some sort of proper procession. [Photo right, Nerja in the early 1960’s].
With help from the town hall and local residents, they managed to raise 100,000 pesetas (approximately 600 euros), and bought an assortment of toys and sweets for the kings to hand out to all the local children. I still remember the first procession in Nerja and the impact it had on the town. There was such a concentration of children on the Balcón that I still get excited when I think about it.”
Read another memoir about Nerja during Christmas in the 1940’s, here.
One of the most popular festivals, it is great fun to watch with lots of costumes, parades and celebrations.
The festival is usually held in February but is based around the date for Shrove Tuesday, so dates change every year. It normally takes place over the weekend – Friday to Sunday.
The celebrations are usually as follows…
Day 1: Children’s fancy dress competition and the election of a Mr and Miss Nerja.
Day 2: A big carnival parade throughout Nerja’s main streets, starting around 5.00 pm. Hundreds of local people dress up in the most elaborate costumes, some of which make fun of celebrities or politicians – all in good humour of course. This is followed by music and dancing into the early hours on the Balcón de Europa.
Day 3: The Funeral of the Chanquete (ie, whitebait); which takes place between 2.00 and 5.00 o’clock in the afternoon along Nerja’s main streets. A comical parade with the local band, a giant ‘chanquete’, followed by wailing mourners dressed in a variety of mourning costumes. Eventually the model fish is taken down to the beach and blown up, marking the end of the Carnival week.
Read more about the traditions and history of Carnival in Andalucia
March / April:
Semana Santa, the holy week known by English speakers as Easter, is one of the most important religious celebrations in the Spanish calendar. The processions include decorated floats with the effigies of Jesus and the Virgin.
In Nerja, the sequence of processions is obviously very similar to those in most towns. In our opinion the atmosphere isn’t quite as moving those which take place in Frigiliana but are still full of drama and colour and well worth watching. Below we give a summary of where the processions take place.
On Palm Sunday around 11.00 am, there is a procession of palm branches and olives in Nerja town centre. It travels from the Hermitage of San Angustias to the San Salvador church on the Balcón de Europa.
On Wednesday evening at 8.30pm, there is a procession including the children’s brotherhood starting from the San Salvador church on the Balcón de Europa.
On Thursday night at 10.00pm, there is a procession with the brotherhoods of Nerja, starting from the San Salvador Church on the Balcón de Europa.
On Good Friday at 9.00pm is a procession with the brotherhoods starting from the San Salvador Church on the Balcón de Europa.
On Easter Sunday around 11.30am there is a procession of the Resurrected Jesus from the San Salvador church on the Balcón de Europa.
Crosses of May
Las Cruces de Mayo is deeply rooted in the popular culture of Nerja, Frigiliana and Maro. Large flower crosses are made by local neighbourhood associations and displayed in the centre of the towns and decorated with shawls, mantillas, silks and carpets, and other household items. Prizes are usually given for the best cross. Often themes are incorporated into the design – with a nautical theme being popular in Nerja, given the town’s fishing heritage.
Drinks and typical foods are often distributed to the tourists and residents visiting the floral altars that adorn the different areas. The typical cuisine eaten on this day is cooked with ‘miel de caña’ or molasses, as we know it. Some of the delicacies you might be offered then are nisperos, sweet potatoes, cod and parsley fritters, and popcorn. However, the supreme dish of the day is ‘la arropía’, which is molasses which have been heated to a simmer and then kneaded.
In Nerja there is usually a large display near the Balcon de Europa as well as many other streets (calles Gloria, Diputación, Antonio Millón, and Chaparil, among others). There is another tradition connected with this festival dating back to 1878, when young men from the village would serenade unmarried girls on April 30th from midnight.
There’s often a buzz of activity around the larger displays, sometimes with a pop-up bar, so that in the evening it can become quite lively with typical Spanish singing and dancing.
Read more on the origins of the Crosses of May in Spain
San Isidro romeria
One of the most important festivals in Nerja is the celebration of the town’s Patron Saint, San Isidro, with a colourful pilgrimage of horses and oxen from Nerja to Maro.
This event is known as a ‘romeria’. The term is thought to derive from the historical pilgrimages to Rome, but in this case the reward for reaching the destination is more down to earth than spiritual, especially in Maro when the celebrations go on for the entire weekend!
San Isidro is the patron saint of farmers, and Nerja keeps his effigy outside the town, at a shrine in the grounds of the Caves of Nerja. However for this festival he is taken to Nerja, to start this special celebration in his honour.
Festivities actually begin on the evening of the 14th of May at the Caves of Nerja in Maro, where there is music and dancing until the early hours of the morning.
On the 15th May, after a mass in the Saint’s honour at the San Salvador church on the Balcón de Europa, Nerja, at around 11.30 am, San Isidro’s effigy is placed on a float, drawn by two oxen. A huge pilgrimage makes its way through the streets and along the coastal road to Maro and up to the Caves.
Accompanying the Saint are a variety of decorative floats drawn by oxen and horses, as well as a number of beautiful Andalucían horses, ridden by locals dressed in typical Andalucían flamenco costumes. The procession can be watched in the town, or if you prefer you can join in and walk to Maro. (Remember to take a sun hat and water as there is little shade on the route).
When the procession eventually arrives in Maro between 2.00 and 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon, everyone celebrates with a picnic, or a meal at one of the refreshment tents set up. There is also live music and dancing until the early evening. Read more on the origins of San Isidro Feria.
A celebration of the summer solstice.
In Nerja this celebration takes place at night, with BBQ’s on the beaches and fireworks at midnight when it is tradition to go into the sea to wash away your sins. One of the most popular beaches for this is Burriana. Festivities usually start around 8.00 pm.
Traditional food, especially sardines are usually offered at the local beach bars and restaurants. Or, you can BBQ your own on the beach!
At around 10.00 pm the dancing begins with live music, followed by fireworks around midnight. This is definitely not one to miss, and we all used to love taking part in the jumping-into-the-sea tradition at midnight as well!
June / July:
Festival of the Caves of Nerja
Every year, around July, the Festival of Music and Dance is held in one of the vast chambers of the Nerja caves, as well as now in the gardens outside, plus in the Plaza España in Nerja.
The festival has become very famous, in fact the Queen of Spain once attended. Notable performers have been Montserrat Cabelle, Kiri de Kanawa and José Carreras.
Prices vary widely. In the interior of the cave you can expect to pay €55.00 (starting price) this year, whereas the concerts in the gardens are €20.00, and the one in the Plaza de España is free. However, if you can manage to afford the ticket to one of the cave concerts it is an unmissable experience – certainly unlike any other venue where you might go for such a concert!
For more details, see see our special Caves of Nerja Guide.
Virgen de Carmen
Like many other seaside towns at this time of year, Nerja pays honour to the Virgen del Carmen, the protector of fishermen and sailors.
The celebrations start on the 15th July, with a floral offering at the El Salvador Church at the Balcón de Europa in Nerja. At the Plaza Fabrica del Cangrejos, near Torrecilla beach, there are bonfires, BBQ sardines, bars and entertainment.
On the evening of the 16th July the effigy of the saint is carried out and taken to Torrecilla beach where she is placed upon a small boat. Accompanied by a flotilla of local fishing boats, the Virgen is carried in a boat along to Calahonda beach, near the Balcón de Europa, where she is ceremoniously carried back to the church. There is also music and entertainment at the Balcón de Europa, as well as an impressive firework display.
A good vantage point to view the celebrations is the Balcón de Europa, but get there early as it can become very crowded.
Read more on the origins of the Fiesta of the Virgen del Carmen
Nerja’s autumn festival, the longest feria of the year, going on for some four or five days. As well as traditional flamenco dancing and singing, there are firework displays, processions, concerts and a fairground.
It is held all over Nerja, in the second week of October and held in honour of the Virgen de las Angustias and of San Miguel Arcángel.
The last day of the main feria, always October 12th, coincides with the feast of the Virgen del Pilar, a patron saint of all Spanish speaking nations around the world and also of the Guardia Civil, (which is why military events like the one that takes place in the Civil Guard barracks with a parade and hoisting of the flag, are held).
A large fairground is put up in Los Huertos car park in Nerja, as well as various tents offering entertainment, dancing and or refreshments and traditional dishes. The attractions are in the centre, with the ‘casitas’ (marquees) where various different organisations stage all sorts of activities, around the sides. Apart from flamenco groups there are also music concerts featuring well-known regional and national stars. The music can go on until the early hours! During the daytime and early evening, Plaza Tutti Frutti and calle Antonio Millón are the principal areas for music and entertainment.