Celebrating festa major in Barcelona

Photo of fireworks
Saamya Mungamuru/Staff

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In the summer of 2019, my closest high school friends and I traveled to Spain for one last hurrah before parting ways for college. We had been planning this trip since our freshman year. Our friend, Lia, was from Barcelona and went back every summer to visit her family. We would see wondrous pictures of the city and hear her relay the adventures she had every year when she returned. We resolved to travel with her and see those sights ourselves one day. The dream finally became a reality the summer after graduation and the trip to Barcelona was the most magical two weeks of my life. 

We landed in Barcelona in late July and were greeted by Lia’s family in the sultry afternoon heat. They drove us to their quaint hometown 30 minutes outside the city, and I resisted the urge to sleep to recover from airplane fatigue and instead appreciate my first views of Catalonia. After a dip in the pool and a long nap in the huge makeshift bedroom in Lia’s basement, which we fondly nicknamed “the dungeon” for its impenetrable darkness, we were ready for our first week of jam-packed touristy fun. 

Over the course of the week, we visited the pristine beaches of Cabrera de Mar where we feasted on traditional paella, strolled through the charming Gothic Quarter and marveled at the intricate architecture of the legendary Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell. We took pictures in front of the Arc de Triomf, shopped at La Boqueria market and enjoyed tapas and pan con tomate at various cafes. Best of all, I was introduced to Cacaolat, the mind-blowingly delicious chocolate milk drink that is a local favorite. I usually don’t even like chocolate milk, but I still wake up from dreams about Cacaolat every now and then. 

At the end of week one, we were tan, full to the brim with delicious food and deeply content. We thought we had seen everything there was to see and more. Boy, we could not have been more wrong. The festivities were just beginning. It was time for festa major. 

Each town in Catalonia celebrates its own festa major, or “major festival,” every year. We got to experience the festivities of La Garrinada, the festa major hosted by my friend’s hometown of Argentona. The festival traditionally lasts for four days in the first week of August. 

The first night, known as Nit Boja, is the always longest and busiest. The town was resplendent with lights on the first night of the festival. A drum procession in the streets started the night off as the whole town cheered on. We then congregated to watch a spectacular display of fireworks and an even more magnificent show of the traditional correfoc. The correfoc, which translates to “fire run,” is a Catalan tradition where fireworks of a certain kind are set off, creating a colorful shower of sparks. People are welcome to safely interact with the fiery sparks, and many people around us joined in to chase and dodge them. My friends and I were a little too afraid of fire to approach the correfoc, but we enjoyed the view regardless, from a safe distance. 

Then we made our way to concerts in the middle of the town, where people of all ages danced to live music all night long. And by all night long, I mean all night long. At about 3 a.m., I began to feel the pangs of hunger. To my delight, there were food trucks lining the streets, selling authentic churros dipped in chocolate and scrumptious patatas bravas — fried potatoes served with ketchup and mayonnaise. These dishes kept me going until dawn and I couldn’t resist getting them for the rest of the three nights. At sunrise, those of us who had made it through the entire night paraded the streets of the town, the final tradition before we dispersed to rest. We were provided with different refreshments, from watermelon to pastries and Cacaolat, on every street by volunteers. Finally, at 7 a.m., we walked back to the house and collapsed in the cool darkness of our beloved “dungeon.” We woke up around dinner time to eat, get ready and repeat the same incredible routine for the next three nights. After a week of being tourists in Barcelona, we experienced being one with the locals during festa major. 

At the end of the trip, we got on the flight back to California with a heavy heart. We bid goodbye to Lia and her family and to all of the friends we had made over our two weeks there. By the time we landed in Oakland, Lia had edited together a video of our trip that still brings the biggest smile to my face. I will never forget the magic, the fire and the food of Barcelona, and I’m counting down the days until I can visit once again. 

Contact Saamya Mungamuru at [email protected].