The Día de la Virgen del Carmen is a religious celebration along Spanish coasts. It is yearly celebrated on July 16th in many coastal towns across Spain and holds special significance for coastal communities, particularly fishermen and seamen.
The Virgen del Carmen is their patroness and protector. For coastal towns and villages, the virgin’s holy day is one of the most important of the year. The processions in honour of the much-loved Santa María de Monte Carmelo, as the Virgen Del Carmen is also known, take place after a traditional seafaring mass.
A statue or image of the Virgen del Carmen is carried in a boat or a decorated procession through the streets of coastal towns to the sea front. The statue is usually adorned with flowers, and people gather to witness the procession and pay their respects.
The procession often involves fishermen and sailors who have a deep-rooted belief in the Virgin’s protection against the dangers of the sea. Then she is escorted into the water in honour of those who have lost their lives at sea.
After a mass, the ‘bajada de la Virgen’ takes place when she is placed in a boat, and accompanied by small fishing boats she takes a tour of the harbour or along the shoreline where she blesses the water. As only Spain knows how to, the parties then commence with live music, food and celebrations into the night. Some towns stretch the festivities out over a few days.
It is great to be at the beach on this day. Mostly packed with Spanish families and groups of friends who wine and dine and party extensively during the evening.
Whilst the main elements of the festival are the same across Spain, there are variations in different towns.
Enfariñada in Camariñas
Located in the province of A Coruña, Camariñas celebrates Virgen del Carmen with a unique tradition known as the “Enfariñada.” During this event, the statue of the Virgin is carried in a procession accompanied by the “enfariñadoras,” women dressed in traditional Galician attire and carrying baskets of flour. As the procession moves through the town, the enfariñadoras throw flour into the air, creating a cloud of white powder.
Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria
Candelaria, on the island of Tenerife, holds a grand celebration known as the “Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria.” The event begins with a pilgrimage, where thousands of devotees dressed in traditional Canarian costumes walk to the Basilica of Candelaria. The statue of the Virgen del Carmen is then taken in a procession through the streets, accompanied by traditional music and dance performances.
Flower carpets in San Sebastián
In the coastal city of San Sebastián, the celebration of Virgen del Carmen is combined with the traditional Basque festival called “Aste Nagusia.” During this festival, a massive floral tribute is created for the Virgin. Known as the “Flower Carpets of Virgen del Carmen,” local associations and groups meticulously arrange thousands of flowers in intricate patterns on the streets leading to the sea. It’s a stunning display of color and artistry.
Regata de la Bahía in Las Palmas
Las Palmas hosts an impressive naval procession called the “Regata de la Bahía” (Bay Regatta) in honour of Virgen del Carmen. This unique event features a fleet of boats, including fishing boats, pleasure crafts, and even large ships, all adorned with colourful decorations and flags. They sail along the coast of Las Palmas while paying tribute to the Virgen del Carmen. The regatta is a spectacle that attracts locals and tourists alike.
Noche del Mar in La Herradura
La Herradura, located on the Costa Tropical (Granada), has a unique way of celebrating Virgen del Carmen with the “Noche del Mar” (Night of the Sea). In this event, fishing boats are illuminated with colourful lights, creating a mesmerizing spectacle at night. The boats sail along the coast while fireworks light up the sky. It’s a magical display that combines the reverence for the Virgin with a vibrant maritime celebration.
The celebration of Virgen del Carmen is not limited to Spain. It is also observed in other countries with a strong Catholic influence, such as Chile, Peru, Mexico, and the Philippines. In these places, coastal communities also hold processions, and fishermen decorate their boats with flags and flowers as a sign of devotion to the Virgen del Carmen.