Feria vs. the Fair

When spring and summer roll around here in southern Spain, that means that it’s time for Feria. I was working and in Poland during Sevilla’s Feria, which is very famous and very big, but this weekend I met up with a friend at the Feria in Jerez.

 

Although you can translate “feria” as “fair” (or even festival), there are some big differences between American county fairs and Spanish feria. For one, county fairs tend to be general in what they focus on: you have many barns filled with different kinds of livestock, lots of baked goods competitions, and so on. Feria in Spain tends to be a lot more specific; for example, the Feria in Jerez is actually known as the “Feria del Caballo”, so there were a lot of horses and carriages, equestrian shows, prizes for the best horse, but not a lot of other activities.

However, the point of both Feria and the county fair in America is to celebrate the country’s traditions. In America, fairs showcase traditional crafts and livelihoods, hence all the farm animals. The county fair where I grew up even has an exhibit with a bunch of farm equipment and machines spanning the turn of the century to the 50s or so, which is fun to see (also sometimes they let you run the water spigot, and that’s always a hoot). Feria is for celebrating traditions too, but in a completely different way. If you want to fully experience Feria, and you are a woman, you are going to need a flamenco dress. Polka dots are key, as are volantes, which are ruffles. The more volantes, the better! The traditional shoes kind of look like theatre Character shoes, but if your dress is long enough you can wear something comfortable (or you can decide, to hell with this, I’m wearing flats. I wish I had). If you are male, you have to look smart. Some sort of suit is necessary. At a Feria like the one in Jerez, a riding outfit, complete with top hat, is best. And when you’ve arrived all dressed up, you dance, of course! Sevillanas are the traditional dance, and they can be done in pairs or groups of 3 or 4. The pairs can be two women or a woman and a man, and the groups are typically just women. The dances are flamenco inspired, with a lot of stomping and flowery hand movements.

Another similarity between Feria and the fair is the carnival section. I think every outdoor party everywhere in the world is required to have a mini-roller coaster and cotton candy. I didn’t go over to that section of the Feria in Jerez because I’m kinda over being flung around in the air and calling it fun, but it was really popular with the kids. Even the process was the same, with the ticket booths and all. And there were rows and rows of little food trailers selling hamburgers, doner kebab, buñuelos (mini-donuts) and churros, sodas, soft serve ice cream, and Italian ice. There weren’t any midway games at Feria; instead you could cut out the middle man and buy stuffed animals or plastic junk made in China directly from vendors scattered throughout the food section.

Feria and the fair are both good places to see and be seen, especially if you are a business. In America, organizations, businesses, and political groups set up tents at the fair, selling trinkets or giving out information about themselves. At Feria, groups and businesses sponsor the casetas, which are somewhere between a tent and a lean-to in permanence. Each caseta has the name of the sponsor at the entrance, and inside you can buy food and drinks, and every one has a space to dance sevillanas. Depending on the Feria, the casetas can be pretty exclusive; in Sevilla most of them are private and you can’t get in unless you know someone who is allowed in. In Jerez there were very few private casetas, although some casetas had areas just for members of the sponsoring groups.

 

We are in the middle of a mini-heat wave here in Spain, so even though it’s only May, the Feria in Jerez was as boiling hot as the county fairs my state holds in August. By the end of Feria, I was hot, a little sunburnt, sweating like a pig, covered in dust, and smelled like farm animals, which is not so different from how I end a visit to the county fair. I think I felt grimier because I was wearing a sundress, and for the fair I just dress in whatever (read: I look like a slob). And this weekend, I get a chance to do it all again, because I’m going to Córdoba for a weekend trip and it’s Feria there too!

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