5 festivals in Spain for intrepid TEFL teachers

5 festivals in Spain for intrepid TEFL teachers

So you fancy teaching in Spain? Of course you do; nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, Spain is in a prime position for travel around mainland Europe. There are even some brilliant islands, not least Ibiza, thrown in for good measure.

As a TEFL destination, it speaks for itself. You can have incredibly different experiences depending on where you teach. If you teach English to students in the Basque region, you’ll find a totally different culture to, say, Valencia, Madrid or Barcelona. Spain has culturally distinct and fascinating regions, a Republic formed of land masses that give most entire countries a run for their money in terms of sights, sounds and sensations.

Nothing emphasises this quite like the festivals across Spain. Spaniards love celebration, from the weird and wonderful to the “Why didn’t we think of that?”. We’ve narrowed it down to 5 top festivals, but in truth, this list could’ve featured at least 30, without being anywhere near comprehensive.

So, why go and teach English in Spain? Here are 5 cultural highlights in the Spanish calendar that you just have to go and see.

La Tomatina

We start, as any good list does, with a festival called La Tomatina. Starting in Buñol, a town in the province of Valencia, you might have suspicions from the title about what this festival could entail. You’re probably right.

Yes, La Tomatina is a celebration in which people lob tomatoes at each other. High-quality Spanish tomatoes, too, so you know there’s plenty of agriculture to go round. This festival paints the streets of Buñol red, with rowdy locals and travellers alike getting in on the action.

So, what’s the story here? La Tomatina has been a mainstay since around 1945, being celebrated on the last Wednesday of August. To give some context - although, honestly, it doesn’t clear up a whole lot - the origins of La Tomatina come from a carnival involving Big-Heads and Giants (pageantry and costumes are going to be a running theme, here). The pageant went a little off-script, the Big-Heads and Giants had a disagreement, and a nearby fruit and vegetable stall was the ultimate victim. 

These days, people forego all the Big-Head and Giant stuff and go straight to the tomato throwing. The event was banned in the 1950s by Franco because it was deemed to not have any religious importance, but it didn’t actually stop people - arrests were made during those banned years because people just couldn’t resist chucking fresh produce. And why should they have had to?

It sounds like utter pandemonium, but there are rules . You have to crush the tomatoes before throwing them, and obviously, you can’t throw the tomatoes at passing cars. Obviously.

A building in Seville

Feria de Sevilla

The first thing we should clear up here is that Holy Week - the days running up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday - are a massive deal in Spain. We could’ve included Semana Santa in its own right here. The second thing to identify is that a lot of Spain goes absolutely wild after Easter Sunday.

Seville, the beautiful city in Andalusia, is one of these wild places. Feria de Sevilla begins two weeks after Semana Santa, with fairgrounds built on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.

The festival began as a trade fair, and that history still holds significance. There’s a big agricultural theme, akin to an Andalusian version of say, the Calgary Stampede. Like the Stampede, during the day there’s plenty of family fare, but it’s in the evening when things get interesting.

Are you into big communal feasts, the finest wines Seville has to offer, live music and dancing? You’ll be in the right place. Each night of the festival, the party goes on well into the early hours, like a Mediterranean New Year’s Eve that lasts a whole week. Fireworks aplenty, wild parties and… oh, yes - fish.

Saturday night in the Feria de Sevilla is called ‘La Noche Del Pescaíto’, or ‘The night of the fish’ because it’s traditional to eat the finest seafood on that day. This is celebrated at midnight between Saturday and Sunday, when the lights of the ‘portada’ are lit, in an event called ‘the albumbrao’. People go out, have dinner, and spend the whole night drinking, dancing and revelling.

If it sounds like your kind of thing, it means it’s because you’re good fun. The Andalusian tourist board has all the info.

Semana Grande de Bilbao/Aste Naguista

We told you that each region in Spain is fiercely culturally independent, and in many cases, there are significant language differences. The Basque country is a fine example, so to cover our bases, we’re going to call this festival both Semana Grande de Bilbao and Aste Naguista, as it's known locally.

Another long festival, Aste Naguista is a 9-day celebration, beginning on a Saturday. The festivities begin with - what else? - the launching of a rocket, and subsequent fireworks. The following description of events, via Eusko Guide , is quite something:

“Once a rocket is shot into the sky (known as the txupinazo), the festival’s mascot, Marijaia, makes her grand entrance onto the balcony. 

At Aste Nagusia, Basque culture is celebrated at its fullest. There is traditional Basque music and dancing, as well as Basque rural sports such as wood chopping and stone carrying competitions. The streets are lined with tents offering a wide variety of food and drinks.”

There are plenty more mascots, including giants and, specifically, Gargantua, who devours children. We’re required to say at this point, the children aren’t actually eaten, and they can take part in the rest of the festival, having left through Gargantua’s, erm… posterior.

It’s not all being eaten by mascots, of course. The aforementioned music, dancing and parades go on for all 9 days, until Marijaia is lovingly set ablaze, because of course she is. Cue more fireworks, and an unforgettable week-and-a-half of tastes, incredible night sky views and music.

Old buildings in Spain

Sitges Carnival, Catalonia

In case you hadn’t noticed by now, Spanish festivals are most often colourful, gregarious and exciting. Those superlatives couldn’t sum up our next festival, Sitges Carnival, any better.

If you’re a member of, or ally to, the LGBTQ+ community and you have a passport, you need to be in Sitges. It’s the LGBTQ+ capital of Spain (and can honestly lay claim for all of Europe), and when it’s festival season, you can bet things get rowdy.

The festival is in the run-up to Lent, and the anything-goes spirit of the season is in full flow. We’re talking all-night dancing, incredible food, parades, shows, and performances by Spain’s best-known drag queens - the works, essentially.

There are ‘Extermination’ and ‘Debauchery’ Parades which - well, we can only imagine - and in terms of a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture, there’s no party quite like it in Europe.

About as colourful as it gets, really!

Annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, San Sebastian

After all the parades, mascots, loud music, tomato throwing and whatever else, it sounds about right to sit down, maybe catch a film, and relax.

Ha, no. Sorry. Not happening. We’re going back to the Basque country, specifically its capital San Sebastian, for a festival of scares, jumps, thrills and white-knuckle tension. Yep, it’s the Annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival .

Spain has other film festivals, sure, but there’s nothing quite like this one. Imagine something between Hallowe’en and ComicCon but in the beautiful surroundings of San Sebastian. In 2023, the festival celebrates its 34th year, and it honestly sounds like a blast.

Dressing up is absolutely encouraged, and the festivities aren’t just limited to the movie theatre. Outdoor performances, live comedy events, street theatre, horror exhibitions, and several fanzine exhibitions; this festival has everything the self-respecting horror or fantasy fan should be after.

We’re reluctant to use the word “spooktacular” - really, we are. However, this Basque celebration of the macabre and fantastical really does earn that term.

TEFL in Spain: An Overview

So, that’s all fine and well, but what about the day-to-day TEFL teaching? Salaries, requirements: what does the prospective ESL teacher need to get involved in Spanish English teaching?

Firstly, what you need: a high-quality TEFL qualification is a must. This is true anywhere in the world, but the field is competitive in Spain, so at least 120 hours of TEFL training from a highly accredited course provider will get you on the ladder. If you have advanced TEFL certificates on your CV, all the better. A degree is usually a minimum requirement, too, although some jobs might not insist on this.

The salaries are very decent; the average wage teaching in Spain is €1,200 – €1,500 ($1,300 – $1,623) per month. The cost of living is well below the United Kingdom; rent is, on average, 29% lower, while the cost of living, in general, is about 18% lower, per Numbeo.

English teachers are very much in demand. For a country with such ample resources, that attracts so much talent from around the world, their English proficiency isn’t particularly great for a European country, ranking just 33rd on EF’s English Proficiency Index .

Why should you teach in Spain? Well, if you love wild and varied culture, incredible weather, some of the busiest and most iconic cities in Europe, eager students and a more relaxed atmosphere than a lot of the global west, Spain is an excellent choice. As the festivals we’ve picked out show, you’ll be absolutely fine if you don’t take yourself too seriously, you’re willing to dive into all sorts of strange and exotic experiences, and you love life loud.

Check out our guide to teaching English in Spain for more information about this popular TEFL destination!

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