Fairs, Festivals and Markets 5, by Toni Vives (Professor at CIEE Palma de Mallorca, Spain)
The history of the San Sebastian festivals dates back several centuries. The story goes that in the year 1523, plague was running like wildfire through the population living on the Island of Mallorca. That same year, a relic of San Sebastian was brought to the Island. Shortly after the relic was officially donated to the Cathedral in Palma, the plague stopped its deadly spread, a sign which was interpreted as being one of divine intervention. In 1643, San Sebastian was officially declared the patron saint of Palma. The celebration, which is held every year on 20th January, consists of a solemn mass held in the Cathedral, although in recent years, the festival has taken on a different character aimed at the young with musical celebration in the streets.
As a spontaneous contribution to the festivities, a free outdoor barbecue for the crowds sponsored by local authorities was set up in Plaza Mayor in Palma, a feature which was soon to be copied at other points in the city. Before long the number of days over which the festival was held became extended and incorporated a number of activities in which local people from all walks of life were able to take part. One of the most popular and well- attended events of the San Sebastian festival is a concert held on the evening prior to the saint’s day itself. The occasion has evolved into not just one, but a series of concerts of different musical styles which can be attended free of charge in the main squares of the city.
Separately, the 20th January is a traditional «Cycling day» when enthusiasts set out from Plaza Cort in central Palma and head for the municipal Sports stadium where they are greeted by local town hall dignitaries and honoured with «City of Palma» awards.
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