The day I moved into my apartment in Tarragona, I cleaned my room, unpacked some of my things, and settled into my new home for the year. I created a space that was mine; I was to inhabit this place, these bare walls and windows made colorful by me. I was to think in it, dance, create, and pray. It was a special place--one which reflects its inhabitant. Only after creating my this space which reflected me and made me comfortable to call my own, was I ready to go out and explore the new city, walk on novel streets, and attach a part of myself to this new place. The first thing I learned was that there was going to be a huge city festival, Santa Tecla, and that I moved just in time.
Santa Tecla, Tarragona’s principal festival, is the pride and joy of its people. Like my room, the festival reflects the spirit of the city. It celebrates the lively spirit of the townspeople, and carries the celebrations deep into the Spanish nights. Lasting over a week long, with activities for kids during the day, concerts, castelles (human towers), dances, and parades, the town doesn’t put any limits on the celebrations of Santa Tecla. I was lucky to attend several events of the festival, including the parade in front of the cathedral, the castelles, and several concerts. Although my exhausting teacher/basketball-filled week didn’t allow me to stay out as long as the average Juan, I was able to capture and understand a little more the spirit which molds and upholds the festival.
On the first day of the festival, the town initiated the celebration with a series of castelle constructions. Els Castells, as they call it in Catalan, are towers made up of people standing on each others’ shoulders. The construction of this tower is one of unifying effort. The people at the base of the tower all squish together. Those on the outside push up against the people in the center. The very last people who form the circle extend their hands on the others’ backs and push as hard as they can. This base is essentially a big blob of people, pushing and sweating towards the center. In the innermost circle, depending on the style of the tower (some can be 8 levels x 4 people per level, others 6x7, and still others), the second layer stands up on the shoulders of the first. This stage is considered the beginning. If the tower falls during this time, it doesn’t reflect the tower as a whole, and the team tries to form the base anew. Once the second layer stands still for a few minutes, and the team is ready for the big show, the rest of the construction follows quite quickly. People from the outside climb over the base of people and quickly climb up the human towers, forming a new layer. Each person in a layer stands on the shoulders of the layer beneath him, and grabs onto the shoulders of his neighbor in his level. Once most of the levels are formed, two children climb up the tower. The first child who gets to the top spreads his arms and legs across the two people in the level horizontally, and the second child climbs over the first, raises his hand, and passed over to the other side, continuing his journey down on the other side of the tower. Once the child raises his hand, the crowd cheers, and watches as the tower quickly dissolves back to the base. When the tower diminishes into two layers again, the crowd cheers on the completion of the tower, and the glob again becomes individuals, walking through the crowd.
The work and risk Catalans pour into els castells reflect their pride in the Tarragona traditions. They are willing to risk safety just so they can create a visual spectacle for their city. They are willing to let their young children climb great heights, and contribute to the overall celebrations around the town. But, much like some American sports which are dangerous, like American Football, performing castells creates an event which unifies the people behind one thing. Castells aren’t the only unifying event of the week.
Parades occurred just about everyday. Different giants mimicking animals, famous people, and mythical creatures, waltzed through the streets, with small bands of musicians laying down tunes. The largest parade, though, occurred on the last weekend of the festival, starting at midnight in front of the cathedral. At midnight, the townspeople squeezed in the streets to see the giants pass by. At each intersection, the parade paused and each giant danced around and around while the audience chanted a catchy melody. A giant horse, made up of around five people, fills my memory. A little child, miniature compared to the horse, sat atop it and enthralled the crowd. An eagle, lion, and a bottle of Chartreuse followed. After the parade left the cathedral, it headed to a plaza nearby. The giants were parked by the wall, and a concert started. At around 2 or 3, after a couple of hours of music, the parade continued through the town, heading to another plaza. Supposedly the parade went from plaza to plaza all night, but I was too tired to participate in the rest of the festivities.
The energy in the crowd is truly amazing. Everyone is so positive and trusting, people call their friends out in the crowd, and join together in chants. Nobody seems to have a care about anything else but Santa Tecla-hanging out with their friends, dancing, watching the parades, and performing or watching the castells.
At first glance, it may seem like hard work is absent from this society. How could you have a week-long party, a party which lasts until the late hours of the night, every night of the week? The hard work is reflected in the many events of the fiesta-the castells, parades, the instrument playing. Its hard work that’s manifested in a different way than American hard work. Yes, the result of hard work has a product. But, the product of American productivity is financial success, skilled athletics, excellent marks in academics. Here, the product is a successful tower, good music, lifelong friendships, and a fun party. Santa Tecla, thus, creates an avenue for this type of productivity. At it, people meet up with friends past, join their neighbor in the common goal to create a fun environment for the rest of the town, and party until the wee hours of the morning. When I tried staying up for one of the nights, I wasn’t able to. I was too tired to keep on standing, and left the festivities several hours before they were over. To think that people can do that, and do it again, and again is crazy. It’s hard. But something hard in a different way than I imagined.
Santa Tecla has a rather religious background. In fact, the saint which coins the festival, Saint Tecla, inhabits the cathedral as one of the statues. The chapel, the ultimate part to be built in the medieval cathedral, features Saint Tecla as well as four other statues representing the four cardinal virtues. In the letter two weeks past from the Archbishop of Tarragona, he states that the festival should serve as a reminder of Saint Tecla’s evangelization efforts in the early generations of Christianity in the world. “The root of the festival is the joy and gratitude blessed upon us throughout the generations, and in this case, we celebrate the example of Saint Tecla in the beginnings of Christianity and the merciful assistance of the Virgin Mary on the city as a whole.” He doesn’t condemn the festival, but sees it as a way to remember great people of the past, and bring the townspeople into a participation of joy.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.