ESTEPONA May Crosses
By Chris Chaplow
The May Crosses Festival (Cruces de Mayo) is celebrated in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America and Spain. Here in Andalucia, the festival holds special importance in many regions, but especially Córdoba, which has the most famous celebration. This page is dedicated to the festival of the May Crosses of Estepona (Malaga).
HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL
As legend has it, St Constantine's mother, the much-venerated St Helen, is the founder of this festival, which shows special respect for the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Read about her quest on the Andalucia Cruces de Mayo page.
The practice of cross decoration appears to have been revived in the 18th century, but went out of practice either during, or just after, the Civil War. The concept of a competition was created in Cordoba in 1954 and has been adopted in many other towns and cities since then. In Estepona that same competition was started officially in 2014, although older residents recall the festival when they were children, particularly inside the old shared courtyards and patios.
WHEN DOES THE FESTIVAL HAPPEN AND WHAT IS IT?
May Crosses festival is always takes place at the end of April or beginning of May. Often it is on the nearest Sunday to 1 May. It is actually more than a festival - it is also a contest, with Catholic hermandades (brotherhoods) and neighbourhood associations competing for prizes for the best-decorated cross awarded by the Ayuntamiento (town hall). The preparations take place secretly in the preceding months, with all the women and children from each street or neighbourhood joining in with the decorating of their transportable wooden cross in a community hall or garage.
Early on the morning of the festival, the crosses and the associated decorations are installed in their chosen neighbourhood location.
At about noon, the judging panel visit all the crosses and judge them according to criteria along the lines of: the decoration of the cross itself, the floral variety used, the lighting, and use of existing environmental elements (trees, walls etc). The results are announced in the afternoon, when the winning brotherhood or neighbourhood can celebrate, and also visit the other crosses in the town. There is also a separate competition for the best-dressed escaparate (shop window display).
WHAT DO THE CROSSES LOOK LIKE?
The crosses are about three metres high, decorated with flowers, usually in red or white (occasionally blue, green and/or yellow), and sometimes with more foliage emerging from the upper part of the cross, including its three points, or patterns imposed on the base colour. The effect is further enhanced by more flowers (often pink and white) in pots in a carefully arranged pattern to complement the cross, hanging on the wall behind it, placed at its foot, or going up the steps on which it sits.
WHAT ELSE CAN I EXPECT TO FIND?
In spite of the religious origins of this festival, don't expect anything short of the traditional Spanish fiesta. Each Catholic brotherhood or neighbourhood association sets up a bar next to its cross to serve drinks (try the fino sherry) and tapas to the partygoers. The impromptu stalls will sell food and drinks at very reasonable prices (the price list will be visible). Sometimes you have to buy a voucher at the ticket desk and then use this as currency for the purchase. Let's not forget the music.Sevillanas played during the day, with many local women dancing in their gypsy dresses, there are live performances local flamenco singers and groups or even rock bands at night.
WhERE in ESTEPONA can I see the festivaL?
The Town Hall fiestas department, which organises the competition, produces May Crosses Festival lists, (and hopefully for foreign visitors maps) once the competition entrance deadline has closed a few days before. Look out on the Town Hall or local tourist office's Facebook page or Twitter feed for information as well.
In 2016 the crosses were located at:
- Plaza Pozo Prado.
- Plaza Begines
- Calle Salvador Dalí (next to the Orquidario)
- Plaza Juan Bazán
- Plaza del Rocío
- Calle Veracruz
- Doña Francisca Contreras passage
- Plaza Antonia Guerrero (traditional location not used in 2016)
- Calle Real (by Calle Terraza)