Who are these Pamploneses and what are they celebrating?
Navarra is a proud region, with a rich history dating back to the founding of Pamplona in 74 A.D. While we are a semi-autonomous region of Spain, the Kingdom of Navarra still enjoys its own laws, its own police force, and its own strong ideals. Having survived centuries of political and religious upheaval, one can imagine that the institutions and traditions of Navarra are well established. The Running of the Bulls and the San Fermin Festival represent some of the most celebrated and respected traditions in Navarra.
The story begins in the 3rd century, when Firmo, an important Roman Senator in Pamplona, was converted to Christianity. His son, Fermín, was baptized by San Saturnino at Pocico of San Cernin, a chapel that you can visit today. Over the years, Fermín became the first bishop of Pamplona, and decided to travel to France, where he built the local church of Amiens and converted more than 3,000 people to Christianity. He was imprisoned for preaching Christianity and on September 25, AD 303, was beheaded for his evangelism.
From the beginning to the end of the Running of the Bulls, San Fermín is celebrated. From the chants of “Viva San Fermín” and “Gora San Fermín” at the Txupinazo Opening Ceremonies on July 6th to his procession on July 7th, and the runners’ prayer each morning before the start of the bull run, there is no separating the fiesta from its religious roots.
If this is a religious festival, why do we party so hard?
Funny enough, that question dates back to 1591 when religious leaders tried to increase the piety of the fiesta and discourage drinking. Obviously, their campaign was not successful. The people of Pamplona continue to enjoy both reverence and revelry from one moment to the next. It is not uncommon for a family to stop by the bar for a drink together on their way to evening Vespers (a special Mass during San Fermin).
Pamplonicas love the street, and because of that love, the most interesting events occur there. One of the most important moments happens on July 6th before the opening ceremonies start, when we all put on our white clothes and meet our family or friends to have brunch together, and cheer with cava when the festival starts. This is a great moment, when all of us celebrate one more year in Sanfermines together and wish “Felices Fiestas” with two kisses or a hug.
The Official Day of San Fermin is July 7th – the day when his Procession happens. Around 2:00 p.m. families and friends meet for lunch together. Some of us in honor of the saint, and others just for tradition. Some people, go to a restaurant, others invite people to their home, and many of us celebrate along a big table on the street in our neighborhood. After a few glasses of wine, normally the oldest people, start to sing traditional songs of Navarra and also sing the Jotas. One thing that is very important to us is the “Sobremesa” – long conversations with liquor, chocolates, pastries, and coffee after having lunch or dinner. You can imagine, we can be there for hours, singing and laughing.
For Pamplonicas, the fiesta is synonymous with friends, so we are always with our “cuadrilla”, groups of friends, talking and dancing, having pintxos (tapas), dancing with the peñas around the streets, having long meals in great restaurants, watching a Pelota game, bullfights or a concert, and always with the company of a glass of wine, beer, kalimotxo (wine with coke) or Pacharán (local liquor).
Why are there so few fights during the Running of the Bulls?
People often remark how peaceful the fiesta is… if a fight breaks out among visitors, we usually step in to try and stop it. This is the spirit of the Sanfermines. The ideal of the fiesta is collegial celebration – taking a break from serious life and getting to know our neighbors again.
During the entire year, the city is thinking about Fiesta, like a child waiting for Christmas. The Sanfermines, are celebrated in every single corner of the city, which works hard to create the best possible festival. For this reason, normally, if we see a fight, we try to calm the situation down and continuing having fun. It is just nine days out of the year, so… why fight if you can enjoy?
If you are thinking of coming to Pamplona, open your mind and enjoy the experience. Everyone else will have same goal as you: have fun, make new friends, experience the festival, and most important, feel alive!
So how do I celebrate like a Pamplones?
First of all, have respect for the city. We live here. Treat it like your own and everything will work out fine.
Second, join the spirit of fiesta. If someone sprays your new white shirt with sangria, it’s because we just wanted you to fit in. Consider yourself lucky to be included in the party.
Third, help us continue the tradition. Help us maintain this great fiesta by dressing in white and red. Learn about our history and ancient customs as the Procession, Encierro, Giants and Big Heads, La Pamplonesa, rural sports, Pelota Vasca or bullfights.
Fourth, remember, Pamplona is not a lawless city. There are rules that you need to follow or you can be penalized. Respect the work of police, medical staff, Pastores, cleaning staff, and follow the rules to run in the Running of the Bulls, and be respectful the city and your neighbors.
Fifth, enjoy our gastronomy. Try to avoid tourist bars serving Paella – this dish is from the South of Spain, so trust me, we don’t even know how to make it well. Instead, enjoy an authentic Navarran meal in one of the great restaurants that Pamplona has to offer. Pamplona welcomes the world to our Fiesta. All we ask in return is that you dive in with both feet, yell “Viva San Fermín” at the top of your lungs, and for at least nine days, live Pamplona like a local.