La Tamborrada festival in San Sebastian, or San Sebastian Day as known to English speakers, is a holiday celebrated only in San Sebastian on the day of their patron saint every year. The celebrations begin at midnight on the 20th of January with the ‘izada’ in the Constitution plaza in the heart of the old part when the donostiarras (citizens of San Sebastian) hoist their city’s blue and white flag. It is at this moment when the ‘tamborreros’ (drummers) from Gaztelubide gastronomic society and representatives from other gastronomic societies and groups begin to play the famous melodies of basque compositor Sarriegui that will be played nonstop for the next 24 hours.
The story begins in 1836 when a carnival band from San Sebastian started the tradition of celebrating the day of the city’s patron saint by marching through the streets playing music. At first the participants dressed up in costumes but later they dressed in the uniform of the soldiers that were present in the city. The first uniforms were designed using the Guipuzcoan battalion uniform template of the War of Independence which were notably influenced by French military fashion of the time. As the festival grew with the number of participants, so did the variety of the military uniforms.
In the 21st century the festival has evolved into a representation of the expulsion of the French soldiers in the 19th century and highlights the city’s gastronomic culture as well. Today you can find tamborreros dressed as cooks, sometimes carrying lifesize forks and knives!
On this day it is practically impossible to not see one of the so called TAMBORRADAS marching through the streets of San Sebastian. There are now more than 125 such groups each with between 25-50 drums and 20-50 barrels used as drums accompanied by a music group and majorettes, called cantineras. Additionally, there is also a special parade of tamborradas from the city’s schools that begins at city hall in the morning hours.
At midnight, 24 hours later, the tamborrada of Union Artesana is in charge of retiring the city’s flag in the Constitution Plaza, a ceremony known as ‘la arriada’ signaling the end of the festival until the following year. It is an emotional moment for all Donostiarras and to be there in person is a once in a lifetime experience that all of us can share.