Origins of the Fiestas del Pilar Festival in Saragossa

The origins of the Fiestas del Pilar Festival in Saragossa date back to the early 19th century. During the first years the festival was based on religious acts such as high masses, sermons, preaching, processions and popular rosaries. Bullfights were then added as they are an essential part of whatever festival in our country as well as several cavalcades and the group of Giants and Bigheads being a steady element in the Fiestas del Pilar for many decades. It is known that already in 1659 the presence of a perfectly defined group of Giants and Bigheads was considered to be traditional in Saragossa, preceding the Corpus Christi procession every year.

The first officially known festival was celebrated from October 12 to 20 in 1723. Back then there took place a general procession on the Pilar Day, there were running bulls, mojigangas (large papier mâché figures), popular cavalcades and a big bullfight. This scheme was kept up unchanged until the beginning of the 19th century. The first significant step forward was made in 1807 when the Virgen del Pilar Holiday was conveyed the category of obligatory religious holiday and thus promoted the spreading of the religious cult of the patron saint of Aragón. Actually, the correct date for the celebration of Nuestra Señora del Pilar should be on January 2, the day on which her fleshly incarnation in Saragossa is being commemorated. The Catholic church however preferred to move the Holiday on to October, since the cereal and grape harvest usually is finished by this month.

Until the First Republic in 1873, there were no great contributions to the festival. Nevertheless, there always took place a great cavalcade which was escorted by the municipal guards mounted on horses, moving around the whole town and finally completing its route in the bullring. Since then, the celebration of this type of big parades was habitual during the Fiestas del Pilar. Another important landmark was set in the Fiestas of 1894 when for the first time the Official Jota Contest was celebrated. This contest has created the most prestigious figures of the aragonese jota dance during these 110 years that this contest now is being held.

The Fiestas then stayed more or less the same throughout the beginning of the 20th century. Different sports competitions and allegoric parades were being added during the first three decades of this century such as the one in 1934 that took place along the route of the Imperial Channel of Aragón. Logically, during and after civil war the Fiestas were not being celebrated. The terrible decades of postwar incorporated elements which then became an essential part of the major festivals of the Aragonese capital.
Two of the elements of those years have acquired tremendous popularity, on one hand it is the Floral Offering and on the other hand the Fruit Offering. The act attracting the greatest number of persons is the Floral Offering, celebrated on every October 12 ever since 1952. This act was first celebrated when a delegation of the Saragossan Town Hall introduced the custom (from Valencia) of depositing flowers at the feet of the patron saint of the city.

The Floral Offering was introduced six years later, in 1958. The tourist offices of other Spanish regions with delegation offices in Saragossa present the best harvest fruits to the Virgen del Pilar on midday of October 13.

Saragossa had a Festival Queen and a Court of Honour from 1949 until 1978, just before democracy was established. In those days, shabby dances took place in the Lonja and the festival was lacking popular participation. The festival was then rather disconnected from the citizens and its context but then experienced a radical change towards the 80s.