Festes de Santa Eulàlia
Dates de celebració
Around the Santa Eulàlia festivities
Feast day: 12 February
The Santa Eulàlia festivities, also known as La Laia or as Barcelona's winter festival, is held around the 12th February each year in squares and streets all across the city.
It is a small and intimate party, full of diverse popular culture activities for all ages. Among the events, highlights include the procession of Laies, the Santa Eulalia parade, human towers in the diada castellera, sardana dancing, and a fire run involving fire beasts and devils both large and small.
The festival pays homage to St Eulàlia, patron saint of the city since the end of the 17th century. Barcelona legend tells of how, in the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Diocles ordered the persecution of all Christians in the empire. In Barcelona, many hid and some fled. Upon seeing this situation, Eulàlia, a 13-year-old girl who lived in a house in Sarrià, courageously presented herself to the Roman consul Dacià, to protest against such injustice. Eulàlia was imprisoned and punished, but she was not defeated and did not stop fighting for her ideals. This ended up costing her her life.
From then on the girl became a symbol of solidarity and the defence of justice, and she is still venerated by the people of Barcelona.
The Santa Eulàlia festival celebrations in Barcelona are relatively recent. Not including some folk performances, dances and games that date back to the 18th century, the Santa Eulàlia festivities have been irregular and, well into the 1980s, they were mainly confined to religious activities in the Catholic church and certain institutional celebrations at Barcelona City Hall.
In 1983, as an initiative of the colles de gegants from Ciutat Vella (from Pi and Plaça Nova), and in 1985, with Maria Aurèlia Capmany as Councillor for Culture, the foundations for the new celebration were laid. It took form thanks also to impetus from the Coordinadora de Colles de Gegants i Bestiari in Ciutat Vella, who quickly incorporated several events with traditional roots. Over the years many diverse activities and exhibitions of folk culture have been added that have become repeat events. And finally, in the 1990s, the festes de Santa Eulàlia established a very specific festival protocol which consolidated them further.
Did you know...
The giantess Laia is a festival figure that symbolises the celebration of Santa Eulàlia. It is the result of the success of a drawing by Carme Solé for the programme and poster of the 1997 Santa Eulalia festival. The petita Laia is a creation of the image-maker Xavier Jansana, who followed the instructions of the artist when constructing the new figure. She made her first public appearance on 12th February, 1998, in the procession of Laies, and since then, she has been carried around by the youngest members of the Ciutat Vella's colles geganteres, who also make her dance.
The giantess Laia takes part in the hanging of the penó flag, in the opening proclamation, the processó de les Laies and in the seguici de Santa Eulàlia procession, where she performs her own dance accompanied by a children's cobla of flabiol flutes and violins.
The hanging of the banner. The most symbolic act in the festes de Santa Eulàlia is the hanging of the banner, the penó –the city's historical flag– on the main balcony of City Hall, which takes place on 12th February at 9.45 am and which stays there all day. The mayor is in charge of hanging the penó to the sound of the hymn Els segadors. Afterwards, there is an open day when the general public can visit City Hall.
El seguici de Santa Eulàlia. The seguici de Santa Eulàlia is a large cercavila street parade which originated in 1983 and involves the majority of Barcelona's festival imagery: gegants (giants), gegantons (little giants), nans (dwarfs), capgrossos (big-heads) and the beasts of the Bestiari Històric de la Ciutat, led by the giantess Laia, the star of the festival. The parade begins at 11 am on the festival Sunday and takes a route through the streets and squares of the Gothic Quarter. It ends up in Plaça Sant Jaume with the festival's concluding ceremonial dances in the following order: Laia's dance, the Ball de la Gegantona Laia; the Eagle's dance, the Ball de l’Àliga de la Ciutat; the giants' dance, the Ball dels Gegants de la Ciutat, and finally, St Eulalia's dance, the Ball de Santa Eulàlia, performed by the Gegants Nous from the Plaça Nova group.
The procession of the Laies. La processó de les Laies, one of the oldest events in the festival today, is a cercavila parade led by the Ciutat Vella giants, which that day are rechristened with the name of Laia. The event takes place on St Eulàlia's day at 7 pm in Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol, from where the figures begin their route through the old town, led by the Laies de la Plaça Nova i del Pi and, since her "birth", the giantess Laia.
The ceremonies and dances of the Àliga de la Ciutat. After going through various models, this event is currently a civic parade starting from Plaça Sant Jaume and ending at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar church. The Àliga de Barcelona, the city's eagle takes part, escorted by the Lleó de Barcelona (the Lion) and the Gegants (giants) of Santa Maria del Mar–, preceded by a replica of the penó de Santa Eulàlia, the flag, and to the musical accompaniment of a traditional minstrel group. When they arrive in Plaça de Santa Maria, the Lleó and the gegants perform their respective dances. Afterwards the group enters the church of Santa Maria del Mar and the event is brought to a close with the Àliga de Barcelona's traditional dance in front of the altar.
La diada castellera. As part of the Santa Eulàlia festivities, Barcelona's colles castelleres, human tower groups, are the main feature of the diada which is held on the Sunday. The human tower groups all meet up in Plaça Nova to take part in a cercavila procession to Plaça de Sant Jaume, where the jornada de castells, the castle-building day, is held. In the middle of the route, in front of the cathedral's St Eulàlia, some of the colles raise honorary pillars. When they have finished they continue on and walk into Plaça Sant Jaume with the pillars already raised.
El correfoc. The correfoc fire run is one of the most anticipated events and begins in the Rambla with a parade of the percussionists from all of the participating groups which ends up in Plaça Sant Jaume. Here the correfoc dels petits, the fire run for the little ones, begins and then proceeds through the streets of the Gothic Quarter and finishes in Pla de la Seu. The end of the children's spectacle gives way to the beginning of the correfoc de Santa Eulàlia, involving every one of the devil and fire beast groups from Ciutat Vella as well as other guest colles. This marks the end of the festival.
La ballada de sardanes. The sardana dance is an important part of Barcelona's winter festival. On 12th February a big sardana dance takes place in Plaça de Sant Jaume organised by the traditional music group, the Cobla Ciutat de Barcelona. They finish with the Ball de Santa Eulàlia dance, which coincides with the arrival of the processó de les Laies. Other dances are held throughout the celebration in different locations, arranged by the city's sardana organisations.
The Ball de Santa Eulàlia was composed by Carles Mas and is a dance for the Gegants de la Plaça Nova. It was inspired by an 18th century melody that made up part of the representation of the life of St Eulàlia. There are various versions (for the traditional Catalan gralles, for the cobla de sardanes groups, and for minstrel groups) and it is performed at different times during the festival. In the processó de les Laies, it is danced after the two giants from Plaça Nova, the hundred year-old Laia and the new Laieta, give offerings to the saint; they also perform the ball els gegants nous, the dance of the new giants, during the seguici de Santa Eulàlia, after the offering and to close the procession. Another, more recent interpretation of the Ball de Santa Eulàlia, is performed by the Esbart Santa Eulàlia dance group on the festival Saturday, as part of the Mostra d’Esbarts Dansaires de la Ciutat Vella dance exhibition.
Barcelona City Council.
Protocol festiu de la ciutat de Barcelona. Barcelona City Council. Institute of Culture.