photo courtesy of ABC Sevilla
As in so many other places, Christmas in Seville seems to come earlier every year. The lights are switched on sooner, Christmas markets open earlier, and so on. In Seville, however, we do have an official start of the Christmas season, which helps to keep a check on the excesses. It’s the Day of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated as a public holiday on December 8. Not to be confused with the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception refers to the protection of the Virgin Mary from original sin by God’s direct intervention at her conception. Although believed in by many from quite early times, it only became Catholic dogma in 1854, and in Seville it was naturally seized on as another opportunity for getting out in the street to celebrate. The monument to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Plaza del Triunfo was built in 1918, the four figures around the base (Juan de Pineda, Bartolomé Murillo, Miguel Cid and Martinez Montañés) were staunch propagandists for the doctrine.
statue of the Inmaculada in Plaza Triunfo Seville
Nowadays the most popular and visible part of these celebrations is the “Night of the Tunas”. This has nothing to do with fish (in Spanish these are atún). Tunas are roving bands of musicians (usually attached to various faculties of the university) in “medieval” costume, who can often be seen plying their trade outside the bars for a free beer while they chat up girls, but on the evening of December 8 they congregate around the monument for a friendly competition to sing the praises of the Virgin. Considerable crowds gather in and around the square, and the singing and festivities can carry on until dawn.
[watch from 3:35 – 6:05 to see the tunas in front of the Inmaculada]
On the previous evening (December 7), there is a vigil for the Virgin in the Cathedral, and the day itself begins with a less well-known tradition, the Gozos (joys) de la Inmaculada, three bugle fanfares that are sounded from the belltower of the Antonio Abad church in Calle Alfonso XII, followed by a marching band procession to the monument and on to the Murillo Gardens.
The main religious service in the Cathedral is held the following day, and includes the Dance of Los Seises (the choirboys) in front of the main altar, one of only three occasions each year when this is done. The choirboys (originally 6 of them, which is what gave the dance its name, but now 10) are dressed in medieval costumes, which because of a Papal edict can never be replaced, only repaired. The dance goes back to at least the 16th century, and probably longer, predating the Day of the Immaculate Conception.
Los Seises – photo courtesy of ABC Sevilla
If you’re in Seville The Night of the Tunas is a great excuse for staying up all night in the best Sevillano tradition, and after a day to recover, the serious business of Christmas can get under way in earnest.
If you’re thinking of taking a Christmas break in Seville why not try one of our holiday apartments?