Fiesta de La Cruz

Roadside cross decorated with a Solar System motif for fiesta de La Cruz, Breña Alta
Cross decorated with a Solar System motif, Breña Alta, 2009

Fiesta de La Cruz (Holy Cross day) commemorates the rediscovery of the True Cross, and coincides with the anniversary of the conquest of La Palma on May 3rd, 1493. So on the night of May 2nd, practically all the roadside crosses in Santa Cruz, Breña Baja and Breña Alta will be decorated, most of them gorgeously. The people who worked on them sit close all night, usually making a party of it and setting off lots of fire-crackers. This is partly because the crosses are hung with jewellery.

Detail of a cross decorated with jewellry for Fiesta de La Cruz
Detail of a cross decorated with jewellry for Fiesta de La Cruz, Breña Baja

The decorations will stay up all day tomorrow (May 3rd), but most of the locals go around admiring crosses late tonight, which is much more atmospheric. If you’re on the island and you don’t have small kids, get a hire car! The easiest itinerary is to go up to San Isidro on the road and follow the old donkey track down. Yes, it’s wide enough for one car, and tonight it’ll be one way, downhill, past the crosses. Just follow the crowd. Keen photographers should try to get someone else to drive, and you’ll want a high ISO setting if you’re shooting at night.

Map of the crosses in Breña Alta
Map of the crosses which are decorated in Breña Alta
Map of the crosses which are decorated for Fiesta de la Cruz in Breña Baja
Map of the crosses which are decorated in Breña Baja

Alternatively, you can see plenty of crosses just by walking around Santa Cruz. Look for places brightly lit up in the middle of the night, surrounded by bunting and green branches closer to the cross itself, and follow your nose.

Either way, take plenty of small change. Each cross has a collection. They aren’t trying to make a profit here, just looking to collect enough to buy materials for next year’s cross.

La Cruz del Monte, Brena Baja, 2011.
La Cruz del Monte, Brena Baja, 2011. Note the circle on the left

Some groups have been working all year, making the fine details.

Cruz del Monte, Breña Baja, 2011
Close up of the circle on the left.

The whole cross has this level of detail, and if you look even closer, you can see that the picture is made of short sections of coloured drinking straws. (Other crosses are often decorated with things like petals, seeds and moss.)

Apple detail, Cruz del Monte, Breña Baja, 2011
Close of of the apple in the above photo – it’s made from drinking straws

For the last few years, it’s been fairly common to have a few mayos or machangos beside the cross. These are giant rag dolls, something like scarecrows or the guys I used to make for bonfire night. To begin with, some crosses would have an elderly couple beside the cross (rather like the real people sitting around.) And then I started noticing mayos that appeared to be caricatures.

Mayo (giant rag doll) of a smoker outside a school.
Mayo outside a school. I bet it’s one of the teachers.
Mayo (giant rag doll) of a drunk, fiesta de la Cruz, Santa Cruz de La Palma, May 3rd2008
This man has clearly been partying too hard.

And then they started getting political:

Political protest mayos (giant rag dolls) Santa Cruz de La Palma, 2009
From 2009: These are the top politicians on the island, cutting up a cake of La Palma, and the sign reads ‘And in La Palma there’s 9,000 unemployed.’

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