San Sebastian has worked very hard to foster art and creativity on all levels; proofs of this are the many Festivals held throughout the year in the city. If you time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals in San Sebastian, it will show you its most cosmopolitan face.
In addition to the prestigious San Sebastian International Film Festival, which every September brings together on its pink carpet the full national and international filmmaking panorama, in San Sebastian many other top-flight festivals are held. The city streets move in time to the music during the International Jazz Festival in San Sebastian, held at legendary venues such as Trinidad Square and the terraces of the Kursaal, as well as on the beach, and also during Music Fortnight – one of Spain's most traditional and best-known classical music festivals. The same streets are turned into improvised stages when the dFeria Theatre Fair begins.
Coinciding with Halloween, the Horror and Fantasy Film Week in San Sebastian turns the city into a horror film. San Sebastian demonstrates its commitment to defending civil rights and freedoms during the Film and Human Rights Festival, while creativity gets the professional treatment at El Sol Latin American Advertising Festival. One of the latest festivals to choose San Sebastian as its venue is the Surfilm Surfing Film Festival – young, dynamic and full of activities that link the art of filmmaking with the world of surfing on our doorstep.
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The day that holds most nostalgia for all Donostians is, without a doubt, 20th January. It begins when the city's flag is hoisted in Constitución Square at 00:00 hours and ends when it is lowered again 24 hours later. It's the only day of the year when the whole city throbs continuously with drum marches composed by Maestro Sarriegui. Amidst the general merriment in the streets there's one special drum parade that's full of color and feeling. On the morning of 20th January, San Sebastian's invaded by a peaceful army of over 5,000 children capable of tugging at the residents' heartstrings. The Children's Drum Parade is an inimitable show.
During February, depending on when Easter will fall, Carnival is held. It's an especially big event in Tolosa and San Sebastian. In both places, carnival features parades, float competitions and 'comparsas' (groups in traditional costume), in which many people, both Donostians and visitors, take part. During these five days nothing is what it seems. A few days beforehand, during the first weekend of the month, 'Los Caldereros' (Tinkers') Day re-enacts the yearly arrival of Hungarian tinkers in San Sebastian and serves to usher in the Carnival. On Nursemaids' and Shepherds' (Inudeak eta Artzaiak) Day young women and men re-enact the courtship between the nursemaids and shepherds when they used to come down from the mountain to the city.
During the week commencing 15th August, the Virgin's Day, this festival is held, combining the International Firework Competition right in the middle of La Concha Bay; horse races at San Sebastian Racecourse; bullfights in the new Illumbe Bullring; the best music programme in Sagües; and many other activities. For seven days, the whole city's in festive mood.
The International Firework Competition deserves a special mention for being a time-honoured annual event, for the quality of the entrants and for the fact that it's held over La Concha Bay. The resonance of these fireworks and their reflections on the waters of the sea make a magnificent display. This festival is so famous that it draws firework manufacturers from various parts of the world. It's customary to enjoy an ice-cream while experiencing the magical cascade of colours and sounds.
September sees the celebration of the Euskal Jaiak – Basque Festivities, where demonstrations and competitions of traditional Basque sports are held. A series of activities that go back to olden times and are mostly connected with the daily labours of working the land and producing food in hamlets. The best-known sport is pilota - 'ball', which is played in courts in singles or pairs. Other Basque sports of importance are performed by traditional Basque aizkolariak (lumberjacks) and harrijasotzaileak (stone lifters). One of the most spectacular sports is the regattas, in which teams of oarsmen from different localities race one another. Their boats, called traineras, are traditional Basque sea fishing boats.
On the first two Sundays in September Donostia becomes a colourful place as it prepares to host the boat races for the main trophy of the Cantabrian circuit: the La Concha Pennant, held in the bay.
The Feast of St. Thomas is celebrated on a single day, 21st December. The celebrations are centred around Constitución Square, where stalls are set up serving traditional local produce: cider, txistorra (sausage) wrapped in talo (flat corn bread), cod, cheese... The festival goes back to the days when many baserritarras (tenant farmers) used to come to San Sebastian each year at this time to pay rent to their landlords; often they would take the opportunity to buy items they couldn't find in the small stores in their neighbouring villages and also to sell their produce.