Tessa I. is currently a senior at SYA Spain and a blogger for our Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Phillips Academy (MA). View more of her work throughout the year here.
Studying abroad with SYA, I got to experience the celebration of Pilares, the annual week-long festival here in Zaragoza. With its bright colors and costumes, the city buzzed with thousands of extra feet and chattering mouths, and the whole city radiated laughter and light.
I should explain. One of my favorite Spanish traditions is the fiestas. This country is a nation of celebration. Lots of holidays in Spain have their roots in Catholicism, and though lots of Spaniards are no longer religious, everyone gets to celebrate. The result is days off from school and work spent with family and friends, uniting the city and keeping Spanish culture alive. In Spain, each city and pueblo celebrate their own fiestas for a week every year.
Those Who Love The Fiesta and Those Who Escape It!
There are two types of Zaragozanos: There are those who despise the crowds and the noise of Pilares. They leave. They go on vacation or spend time with extended family. What's left are all of those who love Pilares and love how for a week, everyone is brought together. My host family, thankfully, is the latter.
My host siblings all came home—all four of them. All of them are between the ages of 19 and 27, so usually it's just me and my parents at home. But the two youngest spend lots of weekends at home, escaping their university life in Madrid. But during Pilares, everyone and their mother was sleeping in our small apartment—Family I've grown close to and family I've never met and never will meet again.
A Truly European Experience
Here's one of my favorite stories. My parents had invited my host brother-in-law's German parents to stay with us. Nobody had really ever met them, but the Spanish are warm and hospitable, and my host family is welcoming and ever expanding. But the Germans didn't speak English or Spanish, so the rest of us couldn't speak with them. Nevertheless, we ate big lunches together and laughed like we knew each other's language. Their presence reminded me of the different walks of life to which I expose myself by living in Europe. I was delighted by the reality of Spaniards and Germans and an American all living under a house at once.
Furthermore, my friends and I have declared that Zaragoza is a different city day to night. And though the nights were always incredible, some of my favorite moments of Pilares were in the mornings. I would wake up at the reasonable hour of 10:30am (I promise it's reasonable here) and head out to get breakfast from the street vendors with my friends. The air was chilly, the light was yellow, and the wind carried the rhythms of traditional Spanish street musicians. We all chatted about the adventures of the previous night, winding through the path next to the River Ebro. Old couples were out strolling.
My friends and I built our own traditions inside the much grander and older traditions of Zaragoza. One of my favorites was the way we all ate porras like starving animals. Porras are sugar-crusted churros filled with chocolate or vanilla cream, and we passed them around like gravy on Thanksgiving.
The final night of Pilares brought fireworks. I watched them with my parents by the side of the river, and the entire city gathered around to watch. The show was better than I'd ever seen on a July Fourth in my life, and with the last explosion, Pilares ended. The entire city retired back to their apartments, and nobody spoke much during the walk.
Precious Moments of Self-Discovery
For the rest of Zaragoza, it's about waiting until next year for Pilares. But in that moment, I knew that I would probably never see this celebration again. As I turned the key to my apartment door that night, I said goodbye to the festival.
In the last three months, we have traveled and celebrated. We are becoming vibrant, just like our city. As Spanish really is starting to roll of the tongue, a whole new world of exploration will soon open up to us: we can now independently travel. The SYA building is abuzz with student's real plans to go to Valencia, Madrid, the Basque Country and everywhere else we want to go starting in 2017.
I don't want this year to ever end. Everyone says SYA changes you, but I'm not sure that's 100% true. I think SYA just helps us discover ourselves faster. We're not erasing and replacing anything—we're adding to ourselves.