October 12 – Fiesta Nacional in Spain

Posted on October 12, 2014

On this date in 1492, the lookouts on a small sailing ship spotted land.

And, it turned out, they had “discovered” what was, for Europeans, a whole New World – more than 16 million square miles (or 41 million square kilometers) of previously unknown and unsuspected land lying between Europe and the sought-after spices and riches of the Far East and Eastern Indies.

You probably know that the captain of the fleet of three ships was Christopher Columbus, and that he was sailing for Spain. Because of this momentous discovery, which had bajillions of consequences both good and bad, many countries celebrate October 12 (or, in modern times, the Monday closest to the twelfth), and some people mourn the date! In the United States, the day is generally called Columbus Day; and in much of Latin America, the day is called Discovery Day or Dia de la Raza. The day is also commemorated – sort of an anti-celebration – by some as the National Day of Mourning or Indigenous People's Day.

I've known all that for years – decades, even.

What I didn't know was that it was celebrated in Spain, too!

Spanish celebrations of the anniversary of Columbus's discovery began in 1935. The day was called “Day of Hispanidad” (Dia de la Hispanidad), a day to honor the connection between Spain and the worldwide Hispanic community.

In 1981, a royal decree established Dia de la Hispanidad as a national holiday.

In 1987, the name of the holiday was changed to Fiesta Nacional. Now the day serves as the national day of Spain (along with December 6, Constitution Day), and it is accompanied by a military parade in Madrid that is presided over by Spain's king and prime minister. (Notice, however, that the name change de-emphasizes Spain's connection to the Hispanic community or Latin America.)

Military parade in Madrid

Many, many people in Catalonia
do not agree with this sign.
Having just been to Spain, and having read about the groups that identify as Spanish (but instead as Basque or Catalan), I wondered if people were very patriotic, and if they REALLY celebrated Fiesta Nacional. The answer, apparently, is no and no. There are no widespread parades or patriotic events. I didn't even read about any fireworks. Spain has some amazing holidays (like this one and this other one), but this apparently isn't one of them. 

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