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.
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?