Also known as La Fiesta de las Cruces (the Festival of Crosses), the Cruz de Mayo is a spring flower festival widely celebrated in Spain, most especially in the south, in Andalucia, on May 3, and in some localities also on the days around. As you might expect of a flower festival, this is one of the most vibrantly colourful events of the year, even in a country noted for being colourful.
Although the celebrations have long had an official religious justification (May 3 is said to be the date when Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the pieces of the True Cross), its origins are almost certainly Pagan, and probably evolved from the ancient Roman festival of Liberalia.
Although many places add their own local elements to the celebrations, the basic features are common everywhere. Groups of neighbours make big crosses out of flowers to decorate their patios, plazas and street corners, and this often takes the form of a competition, with prizes for the best displays. Red and white carnations predominate in the crosses, but other spring flowers, local ceramics, shawls (on the balconies), candles, and even copper pots may appear around them. Their may also be processions with floats and marching bands.
The Cruz de Mayo in Granada is one of the biggest and most popular, with the working class districts of the Albaicin and Realejo being the places to go to see the displays, and to join in with the singing and dancing. In the past it was traditional to set up temporary bars near the crosses, but for better or worse, in these more regimented times the custom has largely disappeared, though the tapas bars are still lively and full.
In Seville the festival of the crosses has enjoyed something of a revival in recent decades, having been eclipsed in the 20th century by Semana Santa and the April Fair, and the decline of the traditional patios de vecinos. It’s a joy to see the colour and vibrancy returned to the streets.
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