In San Sebastián, the biggest festival of the year starts at the stroke of midnight on January 20th. The city flag is raised in the main plaza of Old Town to begin La Tamborrada de San Sebastián, the celebration of the city's patron saint, with drum parades and festivities in every neighborhood for the next 24 hours. A tradition dating back to (at least) 1836, today more than 147 companies march through the streets and fill the city with song.
How did such a raucous party come to be? According to Eusko Guide, during the Peninsular War Napoleon took control of the city, his troops banging their drums as they patrolled. Donostiarran women, collecting water for their families at the city's fountains, responded by mocking the occupiers, banging on their buckets in defiance.
Since then the festival has evolved. The famous culinary clubs (sociedades gastronómicas) form many of the bands that now march, the drummers donning chef's garb. Traditional foods are served. And most importantly, for a full 24 hours everyone in the city, young and old, celebrates overcoming tragedy, coming together as one, and happiness for all. Inauteriak datoz! Carnival is coming!
photo credit: Donostia Kultura
photo credit: San Sebastián Turismo
What's one of the traditional dishes that accompany these revels? Angulas. Tiny elver eels, warmed lightly in olive oil with a touch of garlic. As authentic angulas are quite expensive to source, the true product is typically reserved for special occasions. Such as this, obviously. Bring a taste of the celebration stateside with a tin or two.
Would you like more information on La Tamborrada? Look no further than this article from award-winning author, trained chef, and industry expert on Spanish and Basque cuisine, Marti Buckley.