The May Crosses Festival (Cruces de Mayo) is celebrated in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America and Spain. And in Spain, the festival holds special importance in many parts of Andalucia, but especially Córdoba, which has the most famous celebration.
HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL
28th April to 2nd May 2022
(Traditionally first week in May)
The May Crosses Festival celebrated in Andalucia is probably one of the most interesting festivals, not only today, but in historical terms. 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.
As the story goes, in the fourth century AD, St Helen's son Constantine dreamed of a cross that would help him win a battle he was losing. He ordered his troops to build him a large cross, which they then carried into battle and conquered their enemy. This inspired a family conversion to Christianity and St Helen to travel to Jerusalem in search of Jesus' cross. In Jerusalem she found three crosses, and to establish which one was authentic, she carried out tests to see which could perform miracles. Only one of the crosses did, healing the sick and even bringing the dead back to life. St Helen then became a champion for the cross, urging people to continue worshipping even after her death.
And so this veneration of the cross is the motive for the May Crosses Festivals that are celebrated in so many countries.
The practice of cross dressing apears to have been revived on the 18th Century but went out of practice either during the Civil war or slightly later. The concept of a competition war created in Cordoba in 1954 and has been adopted in other places since then. It has tended to be more popular in the provincves of Huelva, Cordoba and Granada. It does appear to be gaining popularity again. In Estepona in Malaga for example that competition was started in 2014 although older residents recall the festival when they were children.
WHEN DOES THE FESTIVAL HAPPEN AND WHAT IS IT?
May Crosses festival is always at the very end of April or beginning of May. Often it is on the nearest Sunday to May 1st. 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 from the Ayuntamiento (town hall). In Cordoba the competition began in 1953, but the tradition of decorating the crosses dates back to the 18th century. 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 cross, singing or dancing as they work. In older times it was an excuse for young single people to meet.
The crosses are judged 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).
WHAT DO THE CROSSES LOOK LIKE?
The crosses are about three metres high, decorated with flowers, usually in red or white (occasionally 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 drinks and tapas at very reasonable prices. The price list we be posted. Sometimes you have to by a voucher at the ticket desk and and then use this as currency for the purchase. Let's not forget the music. In addition to the 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. The different brotherhood or neighbourhood association will have different styles; most very traditional other more contemporary.
The crosses are installed at 9pm on the day of the festival, and remain in place until leat in the evening. In Cordoba the festival lasts 4 days. Music is generally played from 12 midday to about 10pm.
The Town hall culture or fiestas department, who organise the competition will produce May Crosses Festival lists, (and hopefully for foreign tourists 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 a copy as well.
What towns can I see the festival?
The towns traditionally have the festival. If you can not find information on locations, wanted round the town centres and check out the hidden little squares.
Cordoba City, Aguilar de la Frontera, Añora, Bujalane, Espejo, Fernan Nuñez, Montilla, Benameji, Puente Genil, Castro del Rio, Villanueva.
Granada Ciry, Almuñecar, Armilla, Motril, Churriana de la Vega
Alcala la Real, Arjona, Baena, Baza.
Almonaster la Real, Berrocal, Bonares.
Aznacollar, Ecija, Carmona.
Malaga City, Alhaurin el Grande, Coin, Antequera, Estepona, Casarbonela, Nerja, Friliana, Maro, torrox, Velez Malaga.
Cadiz City, El Puerto de Santa Maria.