By Clair Curran

The Fiesta season is upon us and you will find all the villages and towns around the area will be hosting their annual fiesta during the months ahead.

The local fiesta not only offers a great opportunity to party and catch up with all your neighbours, but it also helps to sustain the local business community in terms of the fiesta itself, but also the events organised throughout the year to raise funds to host the fiesta. The dedication and commitment of those on the Fiesta Commission is incredible and only those serving can really appreciate how time-consuming and exhausting it is.

Each village or town fiesta has its own structure and organisation, but they are generally a week long with possibly two weekends, celebrated at the same time each year around the date of the patron saint for the town. I served on the 2010/2011 commission for the small village of Balsapintada and thought it would be interesting to relate my experiences for those of you who may think about contributing in your local fiestas.

July 2010: On the final night of the fiesta the serving commission elect a new commission and announce the names of the chosen ones! With shock I heard both my and my husband’s names called and we were pushed up to the stage. In our village 24 people are elected each year, without advance warning! Obviously some people will not be able to fulfil their obligations, but most will try as the entire village depends on them. Many will not be at the fiesta on the final night and will be told through the grapevine that they have been nominated. The serving commission hands over the key of the village to the new commission (symbolic gesture). Normally you are only elected once in a lifetime and it is seen as an honour.

September 2010: The new commission arranged to meet in the local cultural centre (a hall that is dedicated to the commission for the year). This is when you find out how many members will participate and what skills each has to offer. Notes and information from previous commissions are digested as no-one will have had any prior experience. At this meeting future weekly meetings are agreed to suit all. Ours was Friday evenings at 10pm (not so easy with two small children in tow). The aim of the commission is to raise as much money as possible in order to pay for the fiesta and the elected treasurer is responsible for opening a commission bank account. We learnt that anything less than 100,000€ would not be sufficient to maintain the same level of quality as previous years and no other commission had failed. Remember we were in the middle of a recession and the pressure was now full on!

October 2010-June 2011: Our commission organised weekly bingo events to raise funds (purchasing prizes from local organisations and receiving some donations); we sold El Gordo and El Niño lottery tickets (3€ profit on each one for the commission); we sold the typical red Christmas plants around local villages; we held various dinner dances, a Halloween party, walks etc. It was important to announce the events by producing leaflets and we also went round the village with a loudspeaker to announce that bingo was about to start to try to get as many as possible to go. Bingo in this way is for all age groups with soft drinks, cakes and even alcohol to make it a fun family outing to support the fiesta. We also sold various raffle tickets throughout the year.

At Christmas three members of the commission dressed as the Three Kings (my husband was the black king) and horses were provided for a procession through the village. The Three Kings then presented gifts to the children in the cultural centre. The commission is expected to provide free chocolate and churros. It is also expected to be involved in all local Church processions.
July 2011: Advertisers are approached to place their advert in the Fiesta book or donate anonymously. This is a huge book and a lot of revenue is gained from this as well as from several donations from various local sources. The book is then printed and distributed in the area detailing all fiesta events. An events’ coordinator organises various bands and entertainers for each night. The commission runs the entire fiesta for 10 days starting at around 8am each morning and finishing as late as 5am each morning. It is fun but gruelling. After the first day and night we realised it would be impossible without help and we flew in a niece to look after the children!!

The commission has its own peña (stocked with food and drink) beside the stage. Members work from there organising seating, refreshments for entertainers and all events. Our commission had two huge screens fitted to the sides of the stage to show images of all the events that had happened during each day. The first day was Coronation Day, the second day Lorry Driver’s Day (the commission makes breakfast for a few hundred people) and the third day was Children’s Day (hectic with many activities all day). I imagine many children from other villages come to these free events as I have never seen so many children in our village!!! The following day was Women’s Day with a bicycle tour, free breakfast, and free paella for lunch.
The best bit was the free striptease in a local bar for women only! The local women’s centre put on a play in the evening and there were local crafts and foods presented at the cultural centre. Then there were Farmer’s Day, Youth Day, Pensioner’s Day, Day of the Patron Saint and finally a Horse Fair, election of the new commission, a parade, and a Firework Display. Each evening various contracted bands entertain until the early hours of the morning and the commission was responsible for clearing up after each event! The commission members are also expected to dress up in traditional attire for various events.

Most commission members take a vacation from work during the fiesta, but I can vouch that the week following the fiesta would also be beneficial unless you have a job that allows you to sleep for the week!!!

Footnote: Our commission did manage to raise the required funds and the fiesta was a huge success. Being part of a commission is a great way to make lasting friendships and create wonderful memories. Our commission has regular get-togethers and holds annual celebrations during the fiesta. The Balsapintada Fiesta is held during the week of the 25th July, which is the feast of the Saint of Santiago, the patron saint of the village.