Holy Cross day on La Palma

The official poster for Fiesta de la Cruz in Breña Baja, La Palma
The official poster for Fiesta de la Cruz in Breña Baja

In the east of La Palma, Holy Cross Day (fiesta de la Cruz) is the biggest festival in spring.  They only celebrate it in Santa Cruz, Breña Alta and Breña Baja, and as the name suggests, they decorate the roadside crosses – beautifully.  As often happens, the main party is the night before the public holiday.  Since most crosses are hung with gold jewelry (among other things) people stay beside them in shifts all night, and all the next day. Most holidaymakers go and admire the crosses on the morning of the 3rd (Monday), but the locals go see the crosses starting at about 11 pm the night before, when it’s cooler and more atmospheric.

Detail of a decorated cross in Breña Baja, La Palma
Detail of a decorated cross in Breña Baja

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, almost life sized,something like scarecrows or the guys I used to make for bonfire night.

A mayo outside a school in Santa Cruz de la Palma
A mayo outside a school in Santa Cruz de la Palma

If you’ve got a hire car, the best plan is to go up to San Isidro and follow the crowd down the hill. There are crosses all the way along a very steep lane, which used to be a donkey track. Tonight it’ll be one-way — downhill. (You go up the much newer, asphalted road.) As you approach each cross, you’ll find a small traffic jam. You go past the cross slowly (usually saying, “Oh wow!”) and drive on to the next.

Where to find the crosses in Breña Alta, La Palma
Where to find the crosses in Breña Alta, La Palma

If you haven’t got a car, I recommend a stroll around Santa Cruz, particularly up the older bits. From 10 pm Sunday night until 2 am Monday morning, there will be a public dance (verbena) in the Plaza España at the north end of Santa Cruz, near the concrete ship. And there will be fireworks at midnight at the Castillo de la Virgen in Santa Cruz.

Where to find the crosses in Breña Baja, La Palma
A map of the crosses in Breña Baja

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

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