La Fiesta Nacional de España: Spain’s Controversial National Day

Spain’s national day, officially known in Spanish as La Fiesta Nacional de España, is celebrated every year on October 12 — but not all feel it should be celebrated.

Let’s try to briefly unpack the controversy behind this contentious day.

The controversy of La Fiesta Nacional de España / Columbus Day

“…it represents the celebration of the extermination of the Indigenous people that lived in the Americas long before any colonizers arrived.”

October 12th is widely considered to be when Christopher Columbus first touched down in (or “discovered”) the Americas. You are likely more familiar with the name used for the day in the USA: Columbus Day

To sum it up, the principal reason why there is widespread controversy and outrage towards this day is because it represents the celebration of the extermination of the Indigenous people that lived in the Americas long before any colonizers arrived.

To many, celebrating La Fiesta Nacional de España / Columbus Day is regarded as akin to positively commemorating the mistreatment, enslavement, and deaths of hundreds of thousands (possibly even millions) of innocent people caused by Christopher Columbus and other European invaders who brought violence and brutality, slavery, new diseases, and forced religious conversion.

In Spain, the Fiesta Nacional de España (previously Día de la Hispanidad or the Day of Hispanicity) was designated in 1987 as a day to celebrate the country, and this day brings a sense of pride to many Spanish people. While I totally get the desire to celebrate your country — I mean, it feels good to have a day dedicated to being proud of your homeland — there needs to be consideration taken towards the symbolic aspects of the date selected for the celebrations.

Movements against La Fiesta Nacional de España / Columbus Day

The Fiesta Nacional de España and Columbus Day are denounced annually by activists worldwide, and many counter-celebrations are commemorated in the US and Latin America.

For example, Columbus Day has been replaced in numerous US states and cities by Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day used to honor Native American people rather than colonization. 

Although there appears to be less visibility of the issue here in Spain, there are still some gatherings organized to protest the Fiesta Nacional de España.

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Early in the morning of October 12, 1492, when a Spanish sailor sighted land, the relationship between Spain, the Americas and Africa began. The next day, the crew members of Columbus’ three-ship fleet ventured onto the island that Columbus named San Salvador. Four hundred years later, US President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation in 1892 describing Columbus as “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.” Since then, school plays and community festivities have been organised across the country in celebration of Columbus Day. Today, a part of Spanish society also celebrates the anniversary of Columbus’ ‘discovery’. It's called Día Nacional de España, though many still call it Día de la Hispanidad. It is celebrated with a military parade through Madrid, and a national holiday. Do those celebrating know the significance of today? And if they do, are they celebrating it? Are they aware of transgenerational trauma and how today is a trigger? For the last 528 years, a complex system of exploitation of land, raw materials and people has existed, but it’s a story that remains largely unwritten. Books must accurately reflect historical facts regarding past tragedies and atrocities, in particular slavery, human trafficking and colonialism. Last night, a group of Madrid’s Latin American residents attempted to do just that. Wearing traditional clothing, they played shell horns, burnt incense and performed a ritual to the skies. They then enacted an interpretation of Columbus’ arrival on their native territories, including subsequent exploitation and death. Children then surrounded their bodies which lay still on the ground, all under the shadow of the giant Spanish flag in the centre of Plaza de Colón, a square in Madrid named after Christopher Columbus. This October 12, we have nothing to celebrate, but much to learn. Head to my stories for a reel of what happened last night, plus further reading. #nadaquecelebrar 📸 Thank you to Gareth Thomas Sewell, @gt_squirrel who took these powerful photos. Gareth is a former student of my Bloggers of the Future course which I’m running for a second semester this November, and has done me proud with these images ✊🏽

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This year’s Fiesta Nacional de España in Madrid

In Madrid, the Fiesta Nacional de España is typically observed with a military parade, although this year it was replaced by a simpler ceremony in the courtyard of the Royal Palace due to the sanitary restrictions imposed to curb COVID-19.

However, the restrictions didn’t seem to prevent people from going out to celebrate. While walking to brunch this morning, I unintentionally crossed the epicenter of the celebrations held at Plaza de Colón / Paseo de la Castellana where I saw a sea of people chanting and proudly waving Spanish flags on the streets and from their vehicles. 

It felt odd and jarring to see so many people congregated together in such close proximity, especially as COVID-19 cases have been continuing to rise in Madrid and the city just closed again last week.

That’s my summary of why La Fiesta Nacional de España / Columbus Day is so controversial here in Spain and around the world. What do you think: is it a day for celebration or remembrance and reflection? How can Spain reconcile with its colonial past?

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