What’s happening this year?
After two years of the pandemic and a very small low-key celebration last year, Seville’s iconic Feria de Abril is back this year with much anticipation. This year’s event will include all the typical decorations, bunting, lights and marquees that usually adorn the city as well as a funfair for children, and of course the traditional flamenco trajes (costumes).
Running from Saturday April 30th to Saturday May 7th, this will only be Seville’s fourth April fair that won’t actually take place in April, but will but held in May instead. Monday May 2nd and Wednesday May 4th will also be public holidays within the city.
This year’s fair will cover a total of 450,000 square meters housing 1,053 casetas or marquees. Held in the neighbourhood of Los Remedios, it will encompass 24 blocks and 15 streets. The other part of the fair will be held on Calle del Infierno, where you’ll find all the attractions such as fairground rides and games.
Face masks will not be compulsory at the feria, as Spain lifted the requirement for most indoor public spaces on April 20th.
What’s new for this year?
Every year the fair pays homage to one of Seville’s city monuments and this year it will be the Hotel Alfonso XIII to celebrate the traveller, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the first trip around the world by Magallanes and Elcano.
There will be new LED lamps decorating the fair to save energy and reduce CO2 emissions. There will also be ventilation systems in all the casetas to improve internal air circulation as a preventive measure against Covid-19.
What is a feria?
Feria, as you might have guessed, means fair in English and is a week-long event celebrated at a different time of year for each city and town, primarily in the south of Spain.
Most of these fairs are typically celebrated during the spring or autumn, but there are some in the summer. If you’re familiar with the American or British concept of a fair: junk food, roller-coasters, games and booze, you’ll find the Spanish version not much different.
Like most things in Spain though, it is steeped in a distinct tradition all its own. So whether you’re planning to attend or have accidentally stumbled into an Andalusian city during feria (and found everything that’s not within a stone’s throw of the fairgrounds closed), here’s a quick guide that covers some of the more unique traditional aspects to get you in the spirit.
Most towns and cities have a fairground area where casetas or large tents are erected every year and rented to local businesses, restaurants and organisations. Ninety percent of what you’ll see when you step through the colourfully-tiled archway (the signature entry point for all fairgrounds) in any feria is blocks and blocks of casetas, in front of a backdrop of roller-coasters and attractions.
Usually at most southern Spanish ferias the casetas contain bars where food and drinks are served, a dance floor and tables. There are no entrance restrictions or fees, anyone can enter the fairgrounds, any caseta they choose and partake enjoy the food and drink. The exception to this rule, interestingly enough pertains to the city which also has the largest feria, Feria de Abril or the Seville Feria. Anyone can enter the fairgrounds, but there are few public casetas at the Seville Feria, most are privately owned, purchased by families, social groups and businesses who have restricted their casetas to respective members.
For this reason, most Andalusians will tell you that “Feria de Sevilla es para los Sevillanos“, (the Seville fair is for locals) which sums it up. Feria de Abril is a spectacle to see regardless, but not as much fun unless you know someone or ideally more than one person who will grant you entrance to their caseta. Luckily all of the cities and large towns in Andalusia celebrate feria, and very few have private casetas, so you have many other options to experience feria if you’re not “well connected” in Sevilla.
Ayan in her traje de flamenco.
So you’ve seen the gorgeous women in the gorgeous dresses and are either thinking (depending on what kind of girl you are) do I have to do all that? Or how do I do that? No, you don’t have to break the bank and buy a €200-€500 traje de flamenco to attend, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the traje is a significant part of the experience.
For me, it’s one of the only times of year I really make an effort to be fancy (other than weddings), so it’s a nice change of pace. Yes the dresses are expensive, most natives have at least two or three (that they’ve accumulated over the years) and rotate them throughout the week. If you’re a non-native like myself, you might be lucky enough to have friends around your size who will loan you their dresses to wear. In my experience, this has been an ideal option, but you can also hit up Humana (the Goodwill or Salvation Army of Spain) during feria season and you’re bound to find something south of €100.
And don’t forget your complementos! The typical flowers, earrings and bracelets are a must if you’re wearing a traje, but these can be found at any of the bazaars. In many cities, women don’t begin to wear their trajes until after the second or third day of feria.
If you were one of the women who said, “do I have to do all that?” there’s good news: dressy casual attire is also completely appropriate and you’ll blend right in, as half of the women will be wearing the same. In some towns you’ll see the style of dress leaning more towards casual for those who opt not to wear a traje, but dressy casual is a safer option if you’re unsure.
Since much of the walking pathway is dirt, wear heels at your own risk, low wedges or flats are a safer choice since you’ll also be spending many hours on your feet. Last but not least, if you’re a guiri (foreigner) and dress in a traje be ready for plenty of attention, Spaniards love to see foreigners in the traje de flamenco.
As usual, the men have it much easier, the traditional traje de corto is only worn by horse riders and carriage drivers. Therefore your average guy just wears button-down shirts and slacks or jeans.
Food and drink
Pescaíto frito or fried fish is the most typical food at feria; menus also contain all of the other typical Spanish foods, jamón (ham), montaditos (small sandwiches) etc. and you’ll find the food prices to be slightly higher than usual, as you’d probably expect.
Amongst the casetas you’ll see cotton candy or candyfloss, churros, buñuelos (like fritters or doughnuts), and hamburger stands if you’re just looking for a quick snack or sweets. Just make sure you’re not looking for high-quality Spanish cuisine, no one goes to feria to eat. It’s a fast-food atmosphere, so the food isn’t generally speaking of the highest quality.
Rebujito is the typical alcoholic beverage of feria, it is a dry white sherry called manzanilla that is mixed with Sprite. Rebujito is consumed in tiny almost shot-sized glasses that make it seem like it’s a lot stronger than it is but underestimate it and you’re sure to wake up with a hangover you’ll never forget. Beer, as always, is commonplace as well, and if you didn’t already know, CruzCampo is the beer of the south.
Woman dancing Sevillanas. Photo: mrskyce/Flickr
One of the coolest parts of feria for me is Sevillanas dance. It’s the traditional dance that women and men do together, that’s sweet and relatively simple. Sweet mainly because when was the last time you saw a woman and man dancing together in real life? Sevillanas remind me of a country or traditional dance that you’d see at a cotillion maybe. Most girls begin to learn Sevillanas from the time they’re seven or so, and surprisingly enough, it’s a dance that at least half of the male Sevillanos I polled know as well, which is pretty impressive.
Once you’ve heard a Sevillanas song, you’ll never forget it because they’re all the same. After two hours of hearing it and not being able to dance Sevillanas, if you’re like me you’ll probably begin to go mad from boredom, and that’s when you start looking for casetas with contemporary pop music. There are usually a few and after a certain hour and are the equivalent of a club. If you’ve got the initiative though, there are Sevillanas classes in most cities and for those more coordinated amongst us, I know of a few people who’ve learned it just by watching youtube videos.
This post originally appeared on Las Morenas de España, an online community that is redefining the black experience in Spain and was updated in April 2022 by The Local. Las Morenas de España seeks to provide information, inspiration and encouragement for people of colour living here or who are interested in moving to the country.