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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tenerife Fiestas in July

July Highlights in Tenerife

Fiestas del Carmen

In July the Fiestas del Carmen are the high spot on the calendar and are celebrated most largely in Puerto de la Cruz in the north of Tenerife, where the image of the Virgin del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) is carried through the streets to the harbour, then boarded onto a boat, for a "sea parade" and a ceremony to bless local fishermen - transforming Puerto's quiet, old port area into a chaotic, noisy sea of fiesta fun. See: Fishermen's Friends: Fiestas del Gran Poder y La Virgen del Carmen. As well as looking after fishermen La Santísima Virgen del Carmen (The Holy Virgin of Mount Carmel) is the patron of the armed forces, of transporters and of retailers. With such a heavy workload, I wonder if this is how we get the saying "A woman's work is never done"?

According to pious tradition the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, 16 July, 1251, which explains why the day for her festivities is July 16th, but how did she become implicated in the fishing trade and why she is specially venerated in the Canary Islands? According to the Bible (Kings, 18) the prophet Elijah was praying on top of Mount Carmel, as God had punished his rebellious people with a three year summer. Eventually a cloud formed over the sea, which brought a huge amount of rain that made up for those 36 months without water. The Catholic church believes that this was the work of the Virgin Mary - or that The Virgin is like this cloud, signifying the end of the drought - and thus the association with Mount Carmel. Carmen also came to mean fertile lands that produce lots of good fruits, so it becomes obvious why she would be adopted as the Patrona and have festivities in her name in fertile inland locations.

Messing about in boats: When the Saracens invaded the Holy Land, the Carmelites were obliged to flee and they put to sea. Once upon a time, before electronics and GPS, sailors relied on the stars to guide them. Ancient tradition has it that before setting off, the Virgin appeared while they were singing Salve Regina and promised to be their Estrella del Mar (Star of the Sea), to guide them through difficult waters and into a secure port.

It was a Mallorcan Admiral, Antonio Barceló Pont de la Terra (1716-1797) who promoted the celebration of the already popular Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen among the sailors under his command. Since then, the Spanish Armada (Navy) began substituting their old patron, San Telmo, for the Virgen del Carmen to protect them against shipwrecks and storms. The Virgen del Carmen is venerated wherever the Carmelite order went throughout the world, particularly where there are seafarers and, the Canary Islands have a long tradition of fishing as a means to sustain its population, which accounts for the particular importance of her following in the archipelago. The denomination, Star of the Sea, is also given because Mount Carmel "rises like a star beside the sea". Although I've not read any reports that suggest this as an additional reason for the particular popularity of the fiesta in Tenerife, the same description could easily be applied to our very own Mount Teide, which rises so high near the sea as to cast the world's largest sea shadow.

The Fiestas del Carmen are celebrated on all seven of the Canary Islands.

Santa Cruz' Victory Over The English

More seafarers, of the attacking kind: On July 25th, the Tenerife capital, Santa Cruz, commemorates its famous and proud victory over English Admiral, Horacio Nelson, whose failed attempt on Santa Cruz, on July 25th, 1797, cost him his right arm.

As well they might celebrate, because, whilst British history claims that he "only" intended to sink the Spanish ships in port in Santa Cruz and bankrupt Spain because of the huge cargos of gold they were carrying, the Spanish version claims that Nelson wanted to take the island and use it as a base for further activities. Well, he wouldn't be the first. Isn't that exactly what the Spanish did with the islands, 300 and 400 years before?

Santa Cruz Celebrates Victory Over The English

Fiesta de Santiago

Santa Cruz, along with Los Realejos and the Puerto de Güímar, celebrate the Fiesta de Santiago on July 25th. Santiago (St. James), is the Patron Saint of Spain. In Güímar this is celebrated with an impressive firework display from the sea. Also around the time of St. James Day on July 25, you can buy the traditional, almond, Tarta de Santiago, from the Spanish region of Galicia, decorated with the Cross of Saint James.

July Fiestas in La Laguna

Former capital and World Heritage city in Tenerife, La Laguna, also celebrates fiestas in July. Their Romería San Benito Abad (nearest Sunday before July 11th) is a day of dressing up in local costume, with music, dancing, much wine and food. Not unlike the January fiestas for San Antonio Abad, the processions include lots of animals and, particularly herds of goats, who all file neatly past the town's Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (founded 1511 and, which was the first church in Tenerife.)

Sunday, July 15th, there are Arrastre de ganado y Juegos Tradicionales (Ox pulling contests and traditional Canarian sports and games) from 10:00 a.m. at Camino Tornero (behind the San Benito College). Basically, this is a country fair, with exhibitions of livestock and also demonstrations of threshing with oxen and horses.

On July 27th, La Laguna celebrates the Fiestas de San Cristóbal, the full name of the town being San Cristóbal de La Laguna, so these will probably also be of some importance too. In the meantime, events continue with Pasacalles: Noche de Burros (literally, a Night of Donkeys, a procession of carts) on 13/7, at 20:30 in the Plaza del Adelantado.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fishermen's Friends: Fiestas del Gran Poder y La Virgen del Carmen in Puerto de la Cruz

On, or around the 16th July, fishermen all over Tenerife hold emotional processions in honour of their patron saint, La Virgen del Carmen. In Puerto de la Cruz these celebrations go overboard, almost literally, when the town honours not only La Virgen, but El Gran Poder de Dios as well. Oh, and San Telmo, the patron saint of Spanish and Portuguese fishermen, is thrown in (metaphorically speaking) for good measure. It's all part of the town's month long festivities, known simply as the July Fiestas.

Merrymaking includes the obligatory crowning of the fiesta queen, traditional Canarian dances, jazz and rock concerts, antique car rallies, sporting events, air displays, the procession of the Gran Poder and the popular 'Sardinada', where the air around the ermita de San Telmo is filled with the aroma of grilled fish and a couple of euros will get you a plate of sardines and a beaker of robust country wine.

The highlight of the fiestas is the 'embarcación de la Virgen del Carmen' on the 17th of July. If you're a newcomer to Spanish fiestas, don't expect a quiet, reserved affair. This is big, boisterous, wet, noisy and chaotic as well as being good natured, great fun, an unforgettable experience and a spectacle for the senses.

The best way to get into the fiesta swing is to buy a couple of beers and a plate of pinchos (lip-licking seasoned pork kebabs) from a harbour-side stall, chill out and enjoy the fun.

For anyone under twenty, the idea is to get as wet as possible and stay that way all day. This involves holding running water pistol battles, which amuse the older townspeople until a stray squirt hits them in the eye resulting in much use of the word "coño"; jumping, or being thrown into the harbour; and being drenched by basins of water cascading from balconies around the harbour. You don't have to be Einstein to deduce that shorts and t-shirts, preferably over swimming togs is sensible dress for the day. To really fit in, buy a Virgen del Carmen t-shirt from one of the stalls around Plaza del Charco.

By late afternoon finding a space by the harbour is nigh on impossible. If you're not of basketball player proportions, try standing behind a group of Canarian women. As they're normally five foot nothing, or less, it affords a good view.

At around 6.30, La Virgen and St Telmo or, as one Canarian woman mischievously described him to me, 'La Virgen's boyfriend', appear swaying on the shoulders of local fishermen with a motion which represents the rhythm of being on the ocean. The couple pause en route to the harbour for a heartfelt rendition of 'Ave Marie' (tissues definitely required), before being carried through the crowd to the water's edge.

After 'a few squeaky bum moments' as Sir Alex Ferguson might put it, San Telmo and then La Virgen are transferred aboard their brightly decorated boats amidst a frenzy of splashing and chanting of "no pasa nada, la Virgen está embarcada" (which pretty much means, "all's well with the world, the Virgin's safely on board") and taken on their annual sea trip around the bay, ensuring that a good fish supply is guaranteed for another year.

This excerpt was written by Jack Montgomery, freelance writer, photographer and editor of Real Tenerife Island Drives.

Copyright © 2007 Real Tenerife Island Drives. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of Real Tenerife Island Drives.

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