Arguably the most fantastic event in Spain (save the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona) is Sevilla’s Feria de Abril or April Fair. Usually at the end of April (two weeks after Semana Santa or Easter Holy Week), this year’s fair is late, from May 5-10.
Women young and old traipse about in Flamenco dresses. Caballeros ride by on horses. Spanish gentlemen steer horse drawn carriages. The temporary tent city is alight and a flurry with song, dance and drink.
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The History of Feria
The Feria began as a horse and cattle market, which started in 1847. Two councillors born in Northern Spain, (Catalonian) Narciso Bonaplata and (Basque) José María Ybarra, organized the first livestock fair on April 18, 1847. After Queen Isabel II agreed to their proposal, the first fair was held on the outskirts of the city, at the Prado de San Sebastian. Dealers set up casetas or tents to entertain clients with wine, dinner and dancing. After only one year, the livestock fair became a festive celebration that culminated in the 1920s, when it reached the grand spectacle that we see today.
The tradition of tent “dinner dance parties” continued. Each tent belongs to a group, which could be a prominent family, groups of friends, political parties, clubs, trade associations, etc. Each caseta (tent) is equipped with a bar, kitchen, and sound system or live entertainment playing Sevillanas (the traditional Sevilla song and dance).
If I was to draw a parallel analogy with something in the U.S., it would be like tailgating mixed with Mardi Gras or Carnival (but of course it is a very distinctive affair and can’t really be compared to anything else).
The daily festivities start with a horse-drawn carriage parade of Sevilla’s leading citizens who are brought to La Real Maestranza, the bill ring, where breeders and toreros (bullfighters) meet.
Invited to the Party
As American expats, we found the Sevillano families extremely welcoming. Although there are seven public tents (caseta municipal and one for each of Sevilla’s districts) which anyone can meander in to, most tents held private dining affairs and parties. A large family graciously brought us in to the fold of their group and invited us in to drink wine and fino, mazanilla, or rebujito and eat tapas with them. This is apparently a very coveted type of invitation. We truly felt like we belonged!
Rebijito is Fino or Manzanilla sherry mixed up with lemonade and lots of ice. Since Spaniards are passionate about everything, it’s not surprising that bartenders have strong opinions about rebijito recipes: which fino or manzanilla to use, which lemonade, the proportions, how much ice and lemon garnish.
One of the great things about this week of drinking, eating and dancing… it lasts all day and all night! Families (even the youngins!) are up partying at all hours, but somehow, it’s all very wholesome! Then everyone goes home early in the morning to sleep and charge up for the next day, which starts again with the carriage parade mid-day! Apparently the Sevillanos are skilled in pacing themselves to last for the long-haul, which I find very impressive.
Many of the men and women dress in the traditional costume. For men, (especially those on horseback), it’s the “traje corto” or short suit: fitted pants and a short-cut jacket accessorized with a wide-brimmed hat.
Women (and chicitas) wear traditional “traje de gitano,” or “gypsy outfits,” which are flamenco dresses. They are usually made of bright colors and accessorised with matching hair flowers, combs, jewelry, tasseled scarfs or shawls and a fan.
The daily bullfights during Feria week are supposedly the best of the entire season. I personally never made it to a bullfight (couldn’t stomach watching the torero kill the bull, although I did try bull’s tail as a tapa), but I’ve heard they are entertaining, like a ballet of sorts, yet violent. ¡Ole!