Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Of Fiestas and Fireworks


In 23 years I’ve been to quite a few fiestas I guess.  I remember the first one distinctly.  It was in Los Abrigos, back when, to get there, you still had to bump and twist along a  road so narrow it reduced to one lane in places , and when the pathway by the harbor was potholed, and you could pull up and park right outside the restaurant at which you’d chosen to eat.  The locals had been savvy enough to create restaurants from the buildings along that harbor front by then.  I don’t know when the transition from quiet fishing village to “the” place for tourists to eat  fish began, but it was when the now-nearby golf monstrosities were only twinkles in the eyes of greedy developers.  In 1988 no lesser person than Kevin Keegan told me that  his first thought when he arrived in Tenerife was a platter of fresh fish and papas arrugadas in Los Abrigos.

We had arrived in July, and the fiesta there is in September, so we must have very much still been feeling our way around everywhere, when, as we dined right on the roadside, a little procession wound its way past, the men shouldering a religious statue.  It was a scene I’d seen in the South of France and in movies, so I understood what it was, though we were absolutely knocked out by the firework display which followed the mass and the blessing of the seas.  That was something quite remarkable to our northern European eyes.

Looking back, I’m surprised how low key the celebrations must have been for us to be taken by surprise by the procession.  Today’s Los Abrigos fiestas are much grander affairs, with a firework display which packs the Promenade, sardine-fashion,  with hundred of locals, residents and tourists, who have easy access from the smooth road constructed some years back, and which, effectively, put Los Abrigos “on the map” I guess.    The Sunday procession is still a fairly quiet affair,  but visitors to the nightly verbenas, or open-air dances, in the church square party till the wee small hours throughout the week to the latest pop music or salsa……as I found out when I lived there!  The village is far too small for anyone not to be affected by the noise!

Procession in Los Abrigos four years ago

For a while that was my impression of local fiestas – a few, die-hard religious people shouldering the statues and shouting “Viva whoever” as they paraded along the street, great firework displays (arriving in Disney World for the first time the only disappointment was the firework displays – not that they were inferior to Tenerife, just about the same), and lots of boozing and dancing.  Romerias, as distinct from fiestas, seemed much more traditional, interesting and photogenic.  Over the years I learned about different fiestas and romerías (and am not 100% sure what the difference is),  some of which I’ve now seen, some of which I’ve seen on tv and some of which I’ve only heard stories.  I know that each different celebration of each town or village has its own style, its own personality, and I know that, as the years pass, they evolve, they have changed in my time here.  I guess Los Abrigos, having been such a tiny place, well, didn’t really have much in the way of tradition.

Traditional Romería Arona 3 years ago

Fiestas in other places have become commercialized, most notably, of course, in Los Cristianos, where it was years before I understood the real traditions behind the wonderful firework display there. Ex-pats and tourists think is put on just for them, and  like to mumble and grumble about things “not starting on time” here.  Maybe that’s inevitable, Los Cristianos sold its soul years ago.

You have to pity El Médano in a way.  In some villages now decorations for fiesta are much more extravagant than here, but the almost constant wind can make “short work” of almost anything they put up!

At any rate, I was undecided about going to the El Médano fiesta this weekend, but a trot down to the market on Saturday morning, seeing the preparations in the town square, the portabars, festoons and lively atmosphere, which was already in the air,  prompted me, and later that evening I arrived just in time to see the statue of Our Lady (don’t ask me which one) being shouldered along the street by the square, being taken to her ringside seat for the fireworks.  The truth is that, although there were hundreds of folk there, most of them were there for the firework display. Whilst the procession was winding its way along the streets, most of them were at the fair, buying cotton candy and hotdogs, or throwing back a quick beer, although the rides on the street side did dim their lights and tone down their music as the parade passed.

What really prompted me to go was to take some snaps of the fireworks. For the hours I put into the course at the beginning of the year, and for the time I’ve had, I’ve really just totally neglected photography as a hobby.  It’s just been a way to record where I’ve been, and I could have done that just as well with my beloved, little Nikon Coolpix.  This was my first opportunity to photograph fireworks, and I was surprised to find a decent place on the beach, despite the crowds…..most people don’t want to get sand in their nightime shoes it seems.  I perched by a shower, and had a good position to be able to steady the camera, although I had to bum-shuffle across the wet sand a bit when some people came and stood right in front of us (hence they appear in at least one of the following photos!).

A buzz of expectation in the air

Looking at the moon, as the lights dimmed, you really have to wonder if we “need” fireworks

The procession passed behind me, with its morbid drumbeat and a few scattered “Vivas” (absolutely no wonder that William Booth decided that the devil shouldn’t be the only one to have some jolly music!).  The streetlights went out.  A kind of little gasp went through the crowd.  Then silence, followed seconds later by the first glorious, colorful, exuberant burst lighting up the sky.  The show was on.

No-one reading this needs to have a firework display described.  Most of us in the “Western” world are suckers for them, no matter how many we see, and the ones in Tenerife are superb, rivalling Disney, the Olympics and most any others you can think of.  Making the fireworks is one of the few non-tourist and non-agricultural industries here.

Remember these were a first attempt when you look at the pictures, please!

If you squint  you can see is two surfer dudes who’d paddled out for a real ringside seat.  You can see them in some other shots too, but best in this one.

What I hadn’t realized was how the colors of the starbursts and sparkles would bathe the ocean, turning it from red to purple to green according to the color of the display, and how they would reflect off the wet sand as the tide trickled back from the beach.  There is a constant internal struggle if you like to snap away.  It’s making the decision between immortalizing what you see, and simply turning off the camera and enjoying the spectacle.  I tried to do a bit of both.

As the last sparkle faded and the air hung heavy with smoke, which made the nostrils twitch, and which even lay  on the tongue, the streetlights flickered back on, and Mary was reshouldered to be locked away for another year.   It would be logical to think that little will be left when the current generation of old women has died off, but the traditions of the island are so tied to religion that I wonder about that.  The young seem more eager than ever to keep traditions alive, which seems like a good thing.

You certainly can’t beat the sense of fellowship and shared enjoyment which these events bestow on their respective communities, whether that could happen without the religious element I don’t know, but I really would like to think so.  What I do know is you can get the best hotdogs eveh (sorry NY!), the tastiest pinchos and the coldest beers to round off your night.

The band hadn’t even struck up when I left, but I was supposed to be up early the next morning…..not so early that I didn’t make time to swing by my favorite ice cream parlor for a quick fix to make the night really complete though!


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

4 thoughts on “Of Fiestas and Fireworks

  1. A wonderfully evocative and enjoyable post as always.
    I’m a fiesta junkie and love the vibrancy and spectacle that they bring to communities. I heard a description recently of romerias being just an excuse for a load of peasants to dress up and get pissed which – although people do wear traditional dress and there is a lot of quaffing of alcohol – I thought was a totally soulless and unfair way to describe them.
    Religion free fiestas? Perhaps Midsummer’s Eve (more pagan) and San Andres (okay it’s got a saint’s name attached but no processions – only drinking loads of wine and screaming down hills on wooden boards).

    • I suppose it’s because I’ve had the time that I’ve taken more interest this year. Not only have I visited more, but I’ve been watching them on tv too, and the variety of traditions in different places has struck me.

      That remark sounds like it came from a person who was very disatisfied with themself. I do think that sometimes the myth isn’t quite historically correct when it comes to pride in their history, but then, that happens everywhere. There is as much cultural value in these fiestas as in anything anywhere.

      I just see here, as most places, the tight grip religion has had is loosening, so it would be a gradual change. Maybe sometime in the future, they will still carry the stautes around, but will have forgotten why they do it. Since the dates for lots of Christian festivals (including Xmas) were deliberately chosen by the early church to coincide with Pagan festivals in order to help “convert” people there would be/is a kind of irony anyway.

  2. I agree, it is wonderfully evocative and enjoyable as always! The fotos are really good too, in my untrained opinion. At the very least they convey an immediacy to me, and certainly show the changing colour of the sea. I’m not sure I’d have the courage (or foolhardiness) of the surfers though …

    I love it, too, when there’s something I can genuinely learn. You say “it was years before I understood the real traditions behind the wonderful firework display there”. Can you explain?

  3. Hmm. I’ll try to explain but if it gets too involved I might end up emailing you this!

    2007 marked 20 years of living here for me. I’d lived most of it close to Los Cristianos, so it was “my” local fiesta. I’d seen the magnificent fireworks (and they are some of the best) countless times; when the boys were small we’d always gone to the fair, eaten hotdogs, or pinchos, or bocadillos and cotton candy; not so much with the verbena because of having small children, but in general enjoyed the atmosphere, which, also seemed to mark the end of summer, because the kids always went back to school the following week.

    As an agnostic and lapsed Catholic, I’d paid scant attention to the religious aspect. I just knew that when the statue was taken off the boat the fireworks would begin!

    On the Sunday of the fiesta, in the evening, a cayuco arrived (I am assuming that you know something about the immigration “crisis” which happened here in those years.), I was a member of the Cruz Roja team who attended the arrival. Our team leader was a very dedicated young lady, in her late 20s, and born and bred in Los Cristianos, and she explained to me something of the traditions which her family, fishermen, kept. It was going to be the first time in her life that she wouldn’t be able to attend the fiesta. She was talking about the real fiesta. She was talking about going out on the boats, being a part of it and not a spectactor, waiting for the fireworks to begin. She was talking about the religious significance of it. She was talking about the dinner which the fishermen had once the fireworks were over.

    As we left that night, she pointed out the long tables set out by the boatyard, where people were celebrating and socializing – that was what she was missing, because she still had reports to file, and to oversee the replenishing of equipment etc. That was, of course, the soul of the fiesta. It was with those families it had begun.

    It made me realize that there was still, even in what is hardly more than a tourist resort now, a core of tradition. Not many people who’d watched the fireworks would have known that those tables were there. I certainly never had done. Unless you are involved or have that moment’s insight, as I did, you’d think it was just another “night in the Magic Kingdom” (not that there’s anything wrong with that – far from it!).

    Now I maybe kind of contradicting what I just wrote to Jack. I’m not sure just how intertwined religion and tradition are. My colleague spoke more about the latter than the former.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s