Tamborrada - A special celebration in San Sebastián, the home of the Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

When I woke up this morning, I looked at the calendar, and realized it was January 20th!

You might think…so what?

Well, today is a very special celebration day in Donosti (San Sebastián – Basque Country). The celebration is called Tamborrada and it is held in honor of the city’s patron, St Sebastián.

San Sebastián, home of the first Basque Burnt Cheesecake

Since we all love the Basque Burnt Cheesecake (originally from a restaurant in San Sebastián called La Viña), I thought it would be interesting to share this tradition with all of you.

A few years ago, when I lived in Boston, a very good friend of mine from Donosti explained me everything about the Tamborrada. I have never experienced it, but by the way she explained it to me, I knew it was a very special and fun celebration. A date you don’t miss if you are a donostiarra (people from Donosti). A date you celebrate even if you are in Boston, thousands of miles away from home.

A centenary tradition

The origin of this tradition is unclear, but the celebration was first documented in 1836. That year, two events happened simultaneously: the march in honor of San Sebastián, and the Carnival celebration.

The result?

Tamborrada! (the word tamborrada comes from “tambor” which means drum. As you might guess, it is a big drum festival!)

So now, imagine yourself in San Sebastián on January 20th. It is midnight.

What’s happening?

Everybody is at the “Plaza de la Constitución”, and the gastronomic society Gaztelubide is responsible of opening the festival. You can start hearing drums, and everyone starts singing the “March of San Sebastián” while the mayor raises the city’s flag.

Drum Parades for 24 hours

Tamborrada is officially kicked off and the sound of drums will be heard for 24h around the city as many parades walk through the city’s streets.

The celebration has become bigger and bigger every year. What started with a few participants many years ago, it has now almost 150 clubs or groups participating.

Each club, formed by 20-50 drums and 50-100 barrels, goes through the city’s streets playing in turns. There are drum parades from early in the morning until the evening of January 20th. Participants are either dressed up like cooks or military drummers from the Napoleonic period.

They all play drums and barrels, and the most emblematic marches played on these parades were composed by the musician Raimundo Sarriegui in 1861.

It truly sounds like a very special day, a unique tradition and experience.

However, all good things must come to an end. It is January 21th, midnight.

Everyone is back at the Plaza de la Constitución”. After a fun and loud day, the gastronomic club “Unión Artesana” is in charge of closing the festivity, and the city’s flag is lowered.

I am sure it is an emotional moment for all donostiarras.

The good thing?

Next year there’s going to be another January 20th. Another special and fun celebration day! And maybe next year I’ll get to experience it!

Have you ever been to a Tamborrada? Would you like to go?

PS: Now tell me you won’t think about the “Tamborrada” next time you hear the song 20 de enero by the band “La Oreja De Van Gogh”. So many years singing that song without even knowing about Tamborrada!

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