Friday, April 26, 2013

Are you ready for feria?

I am! The official opening of the El Puerto feria and the alumbrado, the lighting of the portada (the main gate) was on Wednesday night. Feria is all the best parts of Andalucian culture combined with a county fair, where locals go all out with dressing up and party all night. It is oh so Spanish. So, what does an Americana need to do to get ready?

This year's portada - different than the traditional arches and a point of conversation.

Take Sevillanas lessons. A type of flamenco dancing for the masses, Sevillanas may look like a lot of arm waving, stomping and spinning, but there are specific steps. Most Spanish people learned as schoolchildren, which is why they make this look easy. If you want to join in at feria, you'll need to take lessons or at least have someone teach you some of the basic steps. I've been taking a class twice a week since January. There are 4 dances and after several months I'm confident with the first, alright with the second, not great at the third, and still get completely lost in the fourth. Practice, practice, practice! Then, realize that you will never be perfect, have a rebujito or two, and jump in!

Get your dress. The traditional traje is a must. Bold color combinations, polka dots, ruffles, lace, fringe - at any other time, it would seem ridiculous, but not for feria. What would usually be described at best as "loud" and at worst as "gaudy" or "tacky" is transformed into something vibrant and beautiful. The sight of so many women wearing these traditional dresses is nothing short of striking. I didn't have a dress last year (since we were traveling for a large part of the feria season) and I knew I would have to have one this year. So, I bought two.

Luckily, here in El Puerto, there are reasonable options and a good second-hand market. Shopping for one is fun, something like picking out a wedding or prom dress, except with much more interesting choices. Color, sleeve length, and style are personal choice, but one thing is not up for debate - it needs to fit like a (tight) glove. The seamstress will not let you out of there without making sure it is hugging every curve. And she'll also have a strong opinion on what bra you should wear. Smile, say gracias, and promise yourself to lay off the cerveza, then don't worry about it because somehow these dresses are magically designed to look good on just about everyone.

And if you're wondering what the men wear, unless you're Spanish enough to be riding a horse to feria, it's probably best to stick with just dressing up. Nice pants, a button down, maybe even a jacket, decent shoes. Generally, the preppier the better.

Men on horseback wear traditional caballero gear.

Start collecting your complementos. Your accessories are essential and the bigger, the better. There is no less is more at feria. Bare minimum is an enormous hair flower, preferably perched on the top of your head, and equally giant earrings. And remember, as my Sevillanas teacher says, little flowers are for little girls. The color should either match your dress or completely stand out. Add a peineta (hair comb) and a mantoncillo (fringed shawl). Other possible options - necklaces, bracelets, brooches, a fan, and additional hair flowers. More is more.

Buy shoes. Yes, you already own shoes. But like everything else, they need to be specific for feria. Wedge espadrilles are popular for the day, mary janes with a heel can also be worn and are easier to dance in. Spend just enough money to make sure the shoes won't kill your feet or fall apart within the first hour, but be prepared to throw them in the trash when feria is over. Absolutely no flip-flops! This isn't just a fashion requirement, it's a safety one. Dirt or plywood floors that are full of dancing feet, tossed trash, and the possibility of broken glass are dangerous.

Check the schedule. The alumbrado is the first night and while people dress nicely, they leave the traditional dresses for the rest of feria. One day is children's day with half price carnival rides another is ladies' day. The weekend is the most crowded. The horses are only allowed on the feria grounds until a certain time each day. All things to keep in mind, depending on what you want to see and do. Try to plan at least one day and one evening (and early morning) to experience the different scenes. Also, don't be an amateur and schedule a trip during part of your local feria (like I did last year).

Beautiful horses during the day, lovely lights at night.

Rest up. Feria is just for a few days but can be intense - hot sun, long nights, lots of walking and dancing (in your cheap shoes), fried food feasts, and let's be honest, heavy drinking. If partying until sunrise isn't part of your normal routine (or hasn't been in a few years) remember to drink plenty of water, get some decent sleep or plan for siesta time, and consider not going all out every night. Yes, feria is only once a year, but if you're planning to party in other towns (Rota, Jerez, SanlĂșcar) that's a month straight. I went on Wednesday for the alumbrado, rested on Thursday (and had to resist messages from other people that were headed out), and am planning to make tonight and Saturday my big nights.

Rebujitos, your best friend and worst enemy at feria. 2 for 5 euro!

Rally your amigos. Feria is a group activity. You need friends to dance, share giant cups of rebujito, and split the cost of pricy plates of food with. Also, unlike all the locals, you won't know everyone, and having amigos to caseta-hop with is essential. Nothing will give you the confidence to rock your feria dress and complementos and try out your new dance moves like being with a good group. Having a few cups sips of rebujito or fino doesn't hurt either.

Have you ever been to a Spanish feria? What is/would be your favorite part - the clothes, the food, the party, the dancing, the horses? Would you love to wear the traditional dress and complementos? 

I can't wait!


  1. Ah! This looks like Mardi Gras, but AWESOME. I love your dresses!

    1. I can't compare it to Mardi Gras, since I've never been, but feria is amazing. Definitely had one of those overwhelming "I live in Spain" moments when I got to the feria grounds on Friday wearing my dress and complementos. There's nothing else like it!

  2. Isn't it fun learning new holidays in countries that get SO excited? The US holidays seem so tame compared to international countries :)


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