National Day in Spain

12th October is a national holiday in Spain. It is also Saint Day for anyone called Pilar (many Spaniards, especially the older generations, celebrate their saint day more than their birthday). Pilar is the Patron Saint of Zaragoza.

The origins of 12th October celebrations go back to the beginning of last century. In 1913 Faustino Rodriguez San Pedro (a wealthy and influential Spanish business man and lawyer and at that time Chairman of an organization called the Iberoamerican Union) proposed that 12th October (which was already a festival in many South American countries and in Zaragoza in honour of the Virgin Pilar) be called Fiesta de la Raza – literally Festival of the Race, i.e. the Spanish race – and be celebrated throughout Spain and Latin America. La Fiesta de la Raza duly became an official national holiday in 1918 in Spain and some American countries, where the 12th October was already a national holiday, started calling their national day Fiesta de la Raza too.

In 1926 a Spanish priest, Zacarias de Vizcarra, displaying a little more sensitivity and respect for the diversity and wealth of Central and South American culture and race, wrote an article in which he said that the word “Hispanidad” ought to substitute the word “Race” in the official description of the 12th October festivals. The idea started to catch on, and in 1935 the national holiday in Spain was officially renamed Fiesta de la Hispanidad.

Each year military processions are held in Madrid. Last year Aznar was criticised for inviting American troops to participate in the processions just when public opposition to the Government’s support of the invasion of Iraq was at its peak in Spain. This year the Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono has been criticised for inviting a veteran of the pro-Franco Blue Shirt Division, who fought with Nazi Germans against the Russian troops in the Second World War, and a veteran of the Republican army which helped to free Paris from the Germans during the same War.

Both veterans will give King Juan Carlos a bayleaf laurel which is meant to comemorate all Spaniards who have given their life for their country.

The leader of the Communist Party, Gaspar Llamazares, said yesterday that he intended to boycott the celebrations in protest against a government who by inviting both veterans “was putting hangmen and victims on the same level”. And a spokesman from the PNV Basque Nationalist Party said it was like inviting members of the Basque terrorist group ETA to march side by side with victims of ETA terrorist attacks.

Bono has brushed off the criticism with his usual emphatic style. He says he wants people from all sides of the political spectrum to participate as proof that under the Spanish Socialist Government nobody is left out. “If we throw out of Spain everyone who has once in the past said “long live Franco” or has worn a blue shirt, they would only be four of us left“. Bono said that he wanted the processions to be a celebration of peace, concord and understanding of all Spaniards. Other participants in the celebrations include members of the Association for Victims of Terrorism, members of the families of soldiers killed in the Yak-42 plane crash last year, members of soldiers and journalists killed in Iraq and families of people killed in the terrorist attack in Madrid in March.

Related links:

Fiestas in Spain