Some visitors to Tenerife are looking for tradition as opposed to manufactured tourism. They seem to think they will have to travel far and wide to find it and visit at specific times of the year. The reality is that the best places to discover Tenerife’s traditions are the towns and villages where the busy calendar of events offers a plethora of exciting festivals and fiestas for all tastes no matter what time of the year you visit.
Hefty chunks of Tenerife’s festivals are linked to the Catholic calendar – Christmas, Easter, Corpus Christi and patron saints. One of the most popular ways to honour the various saints is with a “romería” a colourful pilgrimage featuring oxen or horse-drawn carts, folk music, and traditional Canarian dress.
Although there is something going on almost every week, I thought a list of a few of the main events would be useful. The photographs I have used apart from a couple of my own are all Jack Montgomery’s. I started collecting these several years ago after seeing one he took of some horses, which I knew my grand-daughter would love and he kindly sent her a copy. Since then Jack must have visited all of the fiestas on the island and taken some wonderful photographs, I am not sure I have them in the correct order but you will certainly get a feel of what real Tenerife is about. To see more check Snapjacs photos on Flikr.
The Three Kings visit towns and villages all across the island. In Los Cristianos they arrive initially by boat then ride camels thorough town to the Plaza, followed by bands, acrobats, fire-eaters and everyone from grandma to toddler in traditional Canarian costume. There is a live Nativity featuring a young mum and her new baby as well as all of the animals. In Santa Cruz, the Kings travel by helicopter and after landing at the football stadium, ride through the city, greet spectators and throw sweets to the children.
Kings Day, the question asked is, ‘Have you been good? If so, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, will come bearing gifts, as today is when children all over Spain open their Christmas presents, if however the answer is ‘no’ naughty children will receive artificial coal, which is a sweet and edible cinder toffee.
The Festival of San Sebastián starts in Adeje town where the celebration begins with a mass then a procession that continues towards the sea at La Caleta. Farmers and herdsmen profess a special devotion to the saint, with the result that the procession is led by numerous horsemen, followed by shepherds with their flocks, donkeys, cows and goats. When they reach the beach, they enter the sea to be blessed either willingly or with a little help! All the while being watched by San Sebastián.
Fiesta de San Antonio Abad is celebrated throughout Spain and in Tenerife, it is held in Arona as Antonio Abad is the patron saint. It is an occasion for the Canarian culture to really shine with various rural activities, performing folk groups, traditional dance, music and dress, livestock and crafts. It is definitely worth checking out. The fiesta is also in Los Silos, Los Realejos and Buenavista, never on the same day so if you miss one you have the chance to catch it elsewhere.
The Almond Flower Route Starts in the Plaza at Santiago del Teide follows the old Camino Real through the Chinyero Forestry Reserve to arrive at Arguayo in time for lunch. This is very popular and the number of walkers has increased over the years.
Hindu Fair – Organised by the Hindu community and Adeje council, the colourful all day fair brings the sounds and spicy aromas of India to Tenerife with numerous stalls selling authentic Indian food. There are also stalls providing astrology readings, henna tattoos, or selling typical Indian ornaments, jewellery and clothing. On stage live entertainment with DJs, singers and some fascinating belly dancers. With people of so many different nationalities, this is truly an inter-cultural event.
February / March
Tenerife Carnaval now rivals that of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Catch all the action just before the onset of Lent. Once the Carnival Queen is elected and ready to go, things really get cracking with a massive parade featuring bands, dance troupes, extravagant costumes and decorated floats. There are groups called “murgas,” “rondallas” and “comparsas” who ensure that each year is somehow even more spectacular than the year before. The main events are in Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz, followed a week later in Los Cristianos and Los Gigantes.
Burial of the Sardine marks the halfway point of Carnaval. A huge papier-mâché fish is carried through the streets accompanied by a throng of ‘mourners’ including pregnant men, bawling women and priests who set the fish alight at the end of the parade. Followed by yet another excuse for more fireworks.
High Heel Marathon a particular favourite of Puerto de la Cruz rounds off Carnaval and where Lily Savage lookalikes race around an obstacle course on heels as high as stilts.
March /April (depending on date of Easter)
Semana Santa & Pascua. Holy Week is a pretty big deal throughout Spain, and Tenerife is no exception. In La Laguna see beautiful processions featuring religious floats and robed penitents who silently pass through the cobbled streets of the cities’ historic quarter.
In Adeje, the town is renowned for its annual Easter Passion. Thousands of people attend and the whole thing is transmitted on Canarian TV. The Passion and Death of Christ is played out on tableaux throughout the town. It is a magical experience even for those who are not religious.
Romería de San Marcos. Tegueste gears up for a so-called “Islands Festival” aimed at conserving and promoting age-old traditions. There is a procession of floats decorated with natural produce of the countryside, carts, livestock, yoked oxen etc. all accompanied by crowds of people in traditional dress. This festival also represents friendship as local people hand out potatoes, gofio, meat, eggs and wine to visitors. The final act of the fiestas is a bonfire to burn an effigy made from straw and old clothes, representing a public figure, amid the shouts, criticism and insults of the public.
Mueca – Festival of Street Art. The best performers, jugglers, comedians, acrobats and musicians from all over the world display their talents over three days, in the streets of Puerto de la Cruz.
Musical Caprices of La Isla Baja. Between April and July musicians from all of the Canary Islands perform outdoors, in squares and venues such as religious buildings in Garachico, El Tanque, Buenavista del Norte and Los Silos, enabling visitors to learn more about the heritage of the towns.
Fiestas de la Cruz. One of the liveliest days in Santa Cruz when the capital is adorned with flowers tied together by locals from different districts who compete to have the most beautiful cross. The night before, people dressed in traditional clothing gather to enjoy a feast of local produce then dance the night away to folk music. The Festival of the Cross is also celebrated in other areas around the island notably Santiago del Teide, Puerto de la Cruz and Los Realejos where rival groups compete against each other with spectacular firework displays, reputedly the largest in Europe.
Romería de la Virgen de Fátima. You guessed it, another pilgrimage! This time in Valle San Lorenzo. Following the traditional romería, the image of the Virgin is carried to the Mirador de la Centinela, accompanied by adorned carts and folk groups and yet again, there is the Canarian clothing, singing, dancing, and giving of food and drink to all passers-by.
May / June, depending on the date of Corpus Christi
Tapestries of Flowers and Sand It is difficult to imagine anything quite as beautiful as the tapestries of sand and flowers that are made in several areas including Adeje and La Laguna that mark the streets of the Corpus Christi procession. The highlight has to be a tapestry in the centre square in front of La Orotava’s Town Hall that depicts biblical scenes made from volcanic sands from Teide National Park. These tapestries are quite special but only last a few hours, when the Procession of Christ takes place and the town visitors walk across them!
Romería de San Isidro in La Orotava is one of the biggest on the island and has been celebrated since the 17th Century. Farmers hold a party at the shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, on the outskirts of town. It is a colourful spectacle where many dress in their traditional costume and women adorn the balconies and windows with rugs, tablecloths and shawls.
Fiesta de San Juan. At the beginning of summer, residents in Tenerife look forward to the most magical night of the year. In almost every district, old bits of junk are used to light large bonfires on the eve of San Juan. Beaches become gathering places for locals who follow the tradition of jumping over bonfires in order to reduce evil to ashes so they can face the rest of the year. Open air concerts and firework displays are organised and at daybreak in Puerto de la Cruz, there is the ritual bathing of goats.
Fiestas de San Telmo Held in Puerto de la Cruz, the highlights of this traditional summer festival include street entertainment and parties on the appropriately named beach of San Telmo.
Dia de la Trilla. Is an ingenious way to get the wheat threshed by displaying agricultural practices that haven’t changed in hundreds of years. The wheat is spread out, horses race around, then children get on boards and are dragged around by a couple of oxen. In the process, the wheat is threshed and the locals sell homemade jams and cheeses from their stalls in El Tanque.
On the day of the Traditions of Chirche, people re-enact the lives of the Canarians from over half a century ago. Old houses, which are uninhabited are open so that visitors can explore in detail to learn how the inhabitants used to live. Visitors can also see bread and roof tiles being made. Taste typical foods, such as trucha or mistela, a coffee liqueur, which can also be bought and taken home to complete a perfect day.
Virgen del Carmen Celebrated in Tenerife’s many fishing villages. Thousands of people gather at the port to watch the procession of the virgin through the streets and into a decorated boat. Dozens of fishing boats accompany the Virgin and sail round the coast and as they return there are beautiful firework displays. The best places to see this is Los Cristianos, Las Galletas and Puerto de la Cruz.
The Fiesta of San Benito Abad has been declared of National Interest to Tourism. Thousands of visitors to La Laguna take the tour that starts at the San Benito Abad chapel and continues through the historical centre of the town. Highlights include tasting traditional dishes such as Canarian wrinkly potatoes and gofio, which are generously handed out to participants.
Fiestas de la Virgen de Candelaria – The Patron Saint of the Canaries. The night before the event, paths and roads to the town become a trail for pilgrims who walk to the basilica to pay their respects to the virgin. Different events are held over several days. One of the most popular takes place on the beach where residents re-enact the appearance of the virgin to the Guanches. Another not to be missed is the procession of the Eucharist and the Virgin statue round the town square, afterwards musical performances and concerts attract crowds to Candelaria.
Romería de San Agustín The highlights of this Arafo romería is the traditional music groups.
Romería de San Roque Held annually in Garachico since the 17th century. During this celebration, local people shake rods of coloured ribbons and follow oxen-drawn carts, singing and dancing while accompanying the saint to his chapel. Tradition dictates that at the end of the festival, everyone heads to the sea for a swim.
Hearts of Tejina is a friendly competition, which brings districts of the town to compete against each other to create the most beautiful heart made from branches, flowers and fruit. On the eve of this unique festival, held in honour of San Bartolomé, the men carry the hearts on their shoulders to the town square for all to enjoy. The following morning, the fruit and flowers from the hearts are sold off to the highest bidders.
The Fiesta of Realejo is the best way to learn how people of the island lived in the past. Over two days actors in traditional costumes guide visitors around Realejo Bajo, taking them back in time. The town becomes a stage where townspeople re-enacting daily life and historical events.
Ceremony of Divine Light The Hindu community of Adeje celebrated on the beach in La Caleta. There is storytelling with dance and music before candles are lit at the seashore.
Over the last thirty years, artists and musicians from the Canary Islands and South America meet in Tenerife for a weekend of musical performances and celebration.
Romería de Nuestra Señora del Socorro Güímar’s oldest festival starts at daybreak with the pilgrimage from the church. After the traditional romería of followers, carts and bands, there is a ceremony to commemorate the appearance of the virgin to the Guanches.
Fiesta de San Andrés the 29th is traditionally a day when wine cellars are opened and the new wine is tasted served alongside roast chestnuts and salted fish. In Puerto de la Cruz and La Orotava, teenagers run around the towns banging pots and pans or dragging strings of tin cans, while in Icod de los Vinos youngsters engage in what looks like sledging as they slide down the town’s steep streets on greased boards.
Nochebuena & Navidad – Christmas time in Spain is traditionally family-oriented. On Nochebuena after a celebration meal, families head to midnight mass, known as “Misa del Gallo.” In many parts of Tenerife, this mass is followed by a dance called the Baile del Niño. In the larger towns there are nativity scene competitions, holiday markets and on Christmas day, a free open-air concert featuring the TSO in Santa Cruz.
Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve) After a traditional family dinner, young people typically hit the streets to ring in the New Year with fireworks displays and street parties.
These traditions while making the island unique link together the generations. Their importance goes beyond economy, culture and religion, there comes a point where it doesn’t matter how the traditions came about, but only that they continue. Any visit to a Tenerife fiesta results in good memories and memories last forever.