12 October 2010

Pilar, patriotism and puentes

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
(aka CRISTOBAL COLÓN)
Today, 12 October, is a public holiday in Spain. Unlike the UK where all public holidays fall on a Monday, here they stick to the date, and when one falls on a Tuesday or Thursday many people take the intervening day off to make a long weekend.  This is called a puente (bridge) and can be a source of confusion and frustration when you first move here, because you can never tell which shops will be open, if any.  It is safest to assume nothing will be open for four days and stock up the freezer accordingly.

My US readers will be briefly wondering why the Spanish are celebrating Columbus Day, until they remember where Columbus first came from.  This day in 1492 is apparently when he first set foot on American soil.

12 October is celebrated in most South American countries and is variously called the Día de la Hispanidad (Argentina, where it first became a national holiday), Día de las Americas (Uruguay), Día de las Culturas (Costa Rica), or even Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Venezuela).  Elsewhere, including in Spain, it was known as Día de la Raza (race) until in 1958 Franco renamed it as the Día de la Hispanidad, Day of  the Hispanic Peoples, emphasising the mother-country´s ties with other Spanish speaking nations.

NUESTRA SENORA
DEL PILAR
This term was officially dropped in 1987, when 12 October was picked as the date of the Fiesta Nacional de España, a national festival intended as a compromise between conservatives who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and Spain's colonial history, and republicans wishing to commemorate Spain's burgeoning democracy with an official holiday.

In 2000, 12 October also took on the role of the Spanish Armed Forces Day, and a fairly low-key military parade is held each year in Madrid.

None of this particularly excites the imagination of the average Spaniard, however.  With their customary enthusiasm for all things Marian they simply refer to today as el Pilar; 12 October is the feast day of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Our Lady of the Pillar, after a vision of Mary standing on top of a stone pillar in Zaragoza.

Our Lady of the Pillar is, conveniently, the patron saint of Spain, of the Hispanic peoples, and of the Guardia Civil.    What an incredible coincidence that Columbus landed in the Americas on her Feast Day ...

Del puerto de Palos partió Colón,
con tres carabelas y un gran corazón.
Soñaba con tierras lejanas tal vez,
adonde llevarles su amor y su fe.
Un doce de octubre a ellas llegó
y en nombre de España tomó posesión.
(CHILDREN´S SONG)

12 OCTUBRE - NADA A CELEBRAR
PROTESTERS HIGHLIGHT SPAIN´S EXPLOITATION OF
HER FORMER COLONIES´ MINERAL RESOURCES

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