A few years back, the German chancellor Angela Merkel caused outrage here by criticising the amount of holidays that Spain has each year. Her argument was that in these times of financial meltdown, we should all be working more, not taking time off from the office. Ms Merkel should probably stay away from Barcelona for the next few months then, because with at least one public holiday a month coming up, a visit here is not likely to improve her view of local attitudes towards work.
However, to reassure all those who, like the German leader, think that six public holidays in 13 weeks is more non-working days than is good for a person, it should be pointed out that if a holiday falls on a weekend, it isn’t carried over to the next working day as happens in some countries. In addition, every now and again, current Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy threatens to change the public holiday system here to have fewer of them and more falling on the nearest Monday—however, this has yet to be made into law, with opposition from, amongst others, the Catholic Church, to such a change.
But while we still have them, let's take a look at what these different days off are all about.
September sees two days of celebration in Barcelona: the 11th is Catalunya’s national day and the 24th is the feast day of (one of) the city’s patron saints, La Mercè (this is only a holiday in Barcelona—head out of town and you’ll find the rest of the region, and indeed the rest of Spain, getting on with life as usual). The Mother of God of the Mercè (to give her her full name) came to popularity amongst residents in the late 17th century, when she answered their prayers to save the city from a plague of locusts. In thanks, the local government awarded Mercè the title of city patron, which was previously held solely by Santa Eulàlia. This fourth-century Christian girl is reported to have been tortured for her faith in horrible ways by the Romans; having miraculously survived them all, she was eventually crucified aged just 13. While her story is undoubtedly the more interesting, it is Mercè who has become the focus of city-wide celebrations each year.
October 12th is a Spain-wide day off for the Fiesta Nacional de España (National Day of Spain), also known as the Día de la Hispanidad. For a notable number in Barcelona and Catalunya, this is regarded simply as a ‘non working-day’ rather than something to celebrate, because of the difficult relations the region has with Spain but also because of the military parade that takes place each year, usually in Madrid (there was a huge outcry here a few years back when the procession was arranged to take place in Barcelona; locals were not happy at the thought of tanks rolling through the streets, whatever the occasion). As such, here the holiday is more commonly known as the Día del Pilar, the saint whose feast day also falls on the 12th.
About three weeks later, November 1st, All Saints’ Day, is a public holiday across Spain, remembering those who have died. For many, a trip to visit the graves of friends and families is the main feature of the day, while in Catalunya specifically, it also means a special lunch. This will include, for dessert, roast chestnuts and sweet potatoes as well as panellets (small marzipan-like cakes with different coverings including pine nuts, almonds and coconut) served with sweet wine.
And so on into December. With the Christmas season fast approaching, there’s already a lot to look forward to. But wait. What’s this? Two days off, not quite consecutively, in the first week of the month? Lovely.
December 6th marks the Fiesta de la Constitución Española, celebrating the Spanish Constitution that was signed in 1978 as part of the transition to democracy following the Franco dictatorship of the previous four decades. Then, on the 8th, work stops again for the Día de la Inmaculada Concepción (or Day of the Immaculate Conception).
Many people take a day or two of annual leave to join the two official holidays and weekend together to enjoy a longer break, what is known as ‘taking a bridge’ (as in making a bridge between the weekend and the public holiday). And why not? Whatever Angela Merkel thinks, in these dark days of global economic crisis, don’t we all need a holiday to look forward to every now and again?