La Tamborrada takes place on the 20th January each year in San Sebastian. It’s one of the biggest dates in the city’s calendar and is a local bank holiday for Donostiarras or people who work in San Sebastian.
What happens at La Tamborrada?
La Tamborrada starts at midnight on 19th January in the Plaza de Constitución where the city’s flag is raised, commencing 24 hours of drumming and celebrations.
The event is a drum festival where more than 15,000 people take part, marching through the city drumming.
Participants typically dress as soldiers, cooks and in other traditional Basque uniforms. They are usually split into different companies (or drumming groups) each with a brass brand, flag bearers and 20-50 drummers and 50-100 barrels.
The companies were traditionally formed from the gastronomic societies (or sociedades in Spanish) that exist in San Sebastian. For this reason, participants of the festival were traditionally only male, as the gastronomic societies were exclusively for men.
However, these days La Tamborrada is made up of mix-sex comapnies and children also take part. As the festival has grown, different companies have also joined with different types of uniforms.
Each company marches across San Sebastian playing the drums, filling the streets with music and atmosphere. And if you’re in San Sebastian on the 20th January, it’s impossible to miss a company at some point during the day.
Thousands of people line the streets to cheer on La Tamborrada, creating a real party atmosphere in the city.
After 24 hours of non-stop partying, the celebrations end at midnight on the 20th January when everyone returns back to the Plaza de Constitución for a final rendition of the city’s song.
What does La Tamborrada celebrate?
Whilst La Tamborrada today is a festival and a day of celebration, the origins actually go back to some of the darkest years of the city.
During the Napoleonic war, French soldiers took over San Sebastian. Back then, there were two fountains in Donostia, and each morning women would head over to the fountains to fill their barrels of water.
The French soldiers meanwhile would march close by the women from San Sebastian playing the drums. This annoyed a lot of locals and they began to mock the French by playing their own drums, banging wooden spoons on their water barrels.
After San Sebastian was burned to the ground on the 31st August 1813, the citizens of Donostia came together to unite in defiance against the soldiers.
La Tamborrada started in the 1830’s in large part thanks to the gastronomic societies. The festival is a celebration of the city, overcoming tragedy, coming together and a way for Donostiarras to connect with their identity.
How to attend the festival
Whilst around 15,000 will take part in La Tamborrada, thousands more will attend the festival and watch from the side lines.
Attending the festival is free and easy. There’s no need to book any tickets or any admission fee, you just need to turn up and watch.
Accommodation in and around San Sebastian will book up fast, so if you are interested, it’s worth booking a hotel in advance.