La Feria Tarifeña – Tarifa, Spain Travel Guide

La Feria Tarifeña

Bingo callers, bumper cars, raffles, and bull-riding, step right up and win your date a… yes, that’s right… a stuffed hamburger. Sound like another scene out of a low-grade American movie? Not quite. Imagine this scene taking place in the small Spanish coastal town of Tarifa, the participants donned in vibrant, ruffled dresses, bolero jackets, tight pants and spurs.

Every September, just when the weather begins to chill and the streets become nearly void of tourists , the people of Tarifa breathe life into the town by celebrating one of the most popular festivals of the year: Las fiestas Patronales de la Virgen de la Luz (the festival of the Patron Saint, the Virgin of the Light).

For an entire week, Tarifeños host a carnival complete with rides and raffles, march in parades on horseback, and delight in sweet treats sold all across town.

The festival is held in honor of La Virgen de la Luz who was summoned by King Alfonso XI during the Battle of Salado in 1340 to protect the town against the invasion of the Moors. In recognition of this, during the first weeks of September, Tarifeños transport the figure of the Virgin from her sanctuary 8 kilometers outside of the city to the Iglesia Mayor de San Mateo (Church of Saint Matthew), located at the heart of the city.

A continuous stream of more than 400 Andalusian horses follows the procession, winding and clopping their way through the cobblestone streets of Tarifa’s old town. Crowds of people line up to view the spectacle, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the horses and the Virgin as she passes by hoisted upon the shoulders of their fellow citizens. People of all kinds dress up for the occasion; sometimes little kids can barely play because of the fashionable constriction of their garments. Yet, the kids don’t seem to mind and actually take great care and pride in their attire.

Even later on at night, at the Carnival, people haven’t bothered to take off their suits and dresses. Little kids ride mechanical bulls in polka-dotted dresses and leather boots, diving for the floor and giggling as the platform jerks and twists underneath them. Teenagers pile themselves into bumper cars, or dance at the Caseta Municipal (main tent) where live bands play well into the night. People dance and drink in the streets too or inside other tents that feature traditional music sponsored by all types of community groups.

In the dark, the carnival is a jumble of neon lights, loud music, giggles and stuffed animal prizes. The summer may be winding down, but for Tarifeños, there’s never a bad time to celebrate.

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