Why is Thursday October 12 a public holiday in Spain?

by Lorraine Williamson
Día de la Hispanidad - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2020-10-12_Dia_de_la_Hispanidad_Desfile_Patrulla_%C3%81guila.jpg

MADRID – Since October 12, 1892, Spain has celebrated the national holiday Fiesta Nacional de España every year. This day is completely dedicated to Spain and the Spanish empire that was created after Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas.

The discovery of America in 1492 had far-reaching consequences and October 12 is considered a memorable day because from that moment the contact between Europe and America began. This culminated in the so-called “meeting of two worlds”. An encounter that profoundly changed the visions of the world and the lives of both Europeans and Americans. The discoveries set in motion the European colonization of North and South America.

On September 23, 1892, the Regent Queen María Cristina de Habsburgo-Lorena issued a royal decree in San Sebastián, at the proposal of President Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, declaring a national holiday on October 12, 1892 commemorating the discovery of America.

Related post: Fiestas, ferias and celebrations in Spain 2023

Often people in Spain also refer to the Día de la Hispanidad when they refer to this day. For many others, that’s just ‘not done’. That name has been assigned to the day by official decree during dictatorship under Francisco Franco. However, the concept of “Hispanidad” has been promoted since the early 20th century by writer and ideologue of a reactionary school of thought Ramiro de Maeztu. In 1931 he published an article in the magazine ‘Acción Española’ defending the use of the term Hispanidad: “October 12, mistitled the day of the race (Día de la Raza), would henceforth be the day of the Spanish should be heritage.

National holiday, a democratic term

The advent of democracy also meant a revision of all national festivities, as well as their terminology. Finally, a law from 1987 stipulates that October 12 is celebrated as Spain’s national holiday and since then the designation ‘Día de la Hispanidad’ has been officially completely abolished and is only used colloquially.

Celebration of Cultural Diversity

Over the years, the emphasis has shifted from the Spanish Empire after Columbus’s explorations to celebrating the cultural diversity and bond between all Hispanic countries and peoples. Since it is a national holiday, most Spaniards are free. This year, the holiday falls on Wednesday, which means that there is no long weekend (puente) associated with it. If the Día de la Hispanidad falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, many people also take Friday or Monday off.

Military Parade in Madrid

The most characteristic feature of the celebrations of the Fiesta Nacional de España is the military parade traditionally held in Madrid, with which Spain demonstrates its military prowess. The parade brings together multiple units from the Armies, Navy, Military Emergency Unit (UME), Guardia Civil and National Police, among others, in an act led by the King and Queen of Spain.

King Felipe VI, his wife Queen Letizia, their daughther crownprinsess Leonor and the Spanish Prime Minister are present at this military display of force. The parade through Madrid usually also includes foreign diplomats and representatives of the governments of the 17 autonomous communities.

Traditionally, the parade starts on October 12 at 11 a.m. on Paseo de la Castellana. The king arrives early at Plaza de Lima, where he receives military honors and assesses the various troops, before greeting the authorities present. Then a soldier descends on a parachute with the Spanish flag in his hands. That flag is then raised and finally the tribute to the fallen takes place.

After this protocol, it is the army planes that make way for the parade. Thus begins the land and flyover that runs along the Paseo de la Castellana from the Plaza de Cuzco to Raimundo Fernández Villaverde. The live broadcast can be followed from ten o’clock on La 1 de TVE.

Cogesa Expats

Outside of Madrid, each city organizes its own celebrations dedicated to Spain and the Spanish-speaking world. Usually the official part of this takes place on the square in front of the local town hall.


On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored off the coast of the Americas. At the time, the explorer did not know that he had discovered a new continent. He was under the impression that he had arrived in Asia, the intended destination of his journey. It turned out to be the Bahamas, the archipelago he later called San Salvador. Columbus’ initial plan was to find a western sea route to India. 

After Columbus‘ first arrival, further exploration and colonisation of the “Americas” by Europe began. From this point on, the Spanish Empire kept getting bigger and more powerful until, at one point, it became the most influential empire in the world. This fact is commemorated annually on October 12. The law governing everything surrounding this Spanish holiday states that on that day Spain ‘started a process of linguistic and cultural projection far beyond European borders’. 


However, there has been increasing controversy surrounding the party for years. America already existed when Columbus docked his ship. In fact, the continent was discovered about 14,000 years ago when the first humans set foot on it. Moreover, the arrival of the Europeans was not positive for the indigenous peoples. Their land was colonised with the indigenous population largely exterminated. According to historians, about 90% of original inhabitants did not survive the arrival of the Spaniards and later other Europeans. In part, the indigenous people also succumbed to foreign diseases which they could not withstand. Those who eventually survived all this misery were forced to adopt the Christian faith. 

Related post: Was Columbus really the first European to set foot on American soil?

New meaning to the celebration 

For these reasons, several countries started to replace the celebration with others more in line with their original cultural identity. In Argentina, for example, in 2010 the Día de la Hispanidad was replaced by the celebration of Día de Diversidad, the Day of American Cultural Diversity. In Bolivia, the day was changed to Decolonization Day in 2009. On October 12, Chile celebrates the Day of the Meeting of Two Worlds. 

Efforts have also been made in Spain to change the character of the festival. In 2016, the municipality of Madrid raised the Wipala. This is a colourful flag that represents indigenous cultures. The Day of the Indigenous Resistance has been celebrated in the council of Navarre since 2017. Proponents of these changes feel that this way the different viewpoints exist around the historical event are taken into account. 

The cost of the military parade

The annual military parade has been marked on the calendars of the Armed Forces, flag vendors, and public officials. The event involves a large display of military personnel, vehicles, and aircraft with the costs to the public ranging from 400,000 to 600,000 euros in previous years. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost was significantly reduced to 57,779 euros in 2020.  The 2022 parade has been the most expensive in the last five years, totaling 581,583 euros. The parade will be livestreamed, and it will include the participation of various military units and conclude with an aerial display by the Patrulla Águila. The celebration continues to be controversial, with some questioning the significance of the date.


Spain’s National Day was not without controversy this year. One of the most notable moments was when a parachutist made a failed landing and ended up on a streetlamp. Moreover, a comment about the parade by former Prime Minister Rajoy caused a lot of stir. These incidents joined other memorable and newsworthy events during the annual celebrations.

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