Some five hundred years ago the faithful of Mahón decided to honour their protector, La Mare de Déu de Gràcia, the Mother of God, with an annual celebration at the beginning of September. The origins of this Fiesta were religious and the type of festivity similar to that of Sant Joan de Ciutadella: equestrian events in the style of the day, with the participation of the various sections of society. The three days of festivities encompassed religious, equestrian, recreational and other popular activities fundamental to the town and the spectacular harbour. Music and dancing have always been a great feature of these celebrations, in which the whole town revels.
Over the centuries the rituals and protocol have not varied although so many elements have obviously been modified, but the events always take place in the Plaça Esplanada, the Pla de sa parroquia (nowadays the Plaça de la Constitució, in front of the parish church and the Town Hall), the Ermita de Gràcia/Santa María (the hermitage and the parish church) and the port.
The municipal band plays a fundamental role, providing music for many of the activities, offering concerts and enlivening the atmosphere from morning to night. They parade through the streets, accompanying the statue of the Virgin as well as the parade of giants and carnival figures, led by the characteristic couple in Menorcan costume.
Throughout the fiestas the typical drink of gin and lemonade is consumed in vast quantities, being known in Mahón as pomada; refreshing and mildly stimulating, it is consumed by everyone with great glee, and thousands of little plastic cups are swept up in the streets at the end of the fiestas.
Starting with the official announcement of Start of Festivities (pregón) by a specially invited well known figure or national celebrity, it proceeds to processions for the dedication of the Mare de Deu de Gràcia at the hermitage, where mass is heard; this is the prelude to jollities which follow: equestrian events in which horsemen dressed in medieval costumes parade the streets, the crowds incite them to rear their mounts and doff their tricorne hats in salute, the most spectacular part being the gathering of all the horsemen in the Plaça de la Constitució for the Jaleo, which is dominated by the typical Jota music played by the municipal band.
There are street parties, horse races in the Cos de Gràcia, parades, folk music and dancing displays, football matches, chess and roller skating, regattas, a harbour swim from the Club Marítimo, rock music and dancing into the small hours, street markets selling typical cocas and other local delicacies, handicrafts, and always music and dancing to local groups.
The festivities culminate in grand displays of fireworks on both land and sea, after which the music and dancing continue until very late and everyone slowly wends their way home.
Here is the programme for the Festes de Gràcia 2016, listing the main events.
August 25 – 31
Folk dancing displays, art exhibitions, pop music, sea shanties and other sporting events take place throughout the town.
Thursday, 1 September
- 1.30pm Prizegivng for the Shop Window competition at the Town Hall.
- 8.30pm Concert in honour of the musician Tofol Mus in Ses Moreres.
- 10.30pm Concert by Singer of Songs from Barcelona, in the Claustre del Carmen (central market)
Friday, 2 September
Volleyball tournaments for children and adults, street parties with coca and chocolate.
- 7.30pm. Rhythmic gymnastic presentation, ‘Frozen’.
- 8pm Performance of ‘Oliver’ by the Orfeó Maonès at the Teatro Principal.
- 8pm The Giants of Mahón set out, arriving at the Town Hall 8.30pm, where they are placed on the balcony.
- 9 – 11pm Recital by Spanish guitarist Carlos Posada, Plaça de la Constitució.
- 9pm Magic, music and humour with Lari Poppins at the Teatre Principal.
- 11pm – 2am Music by Brothers Sound System. Plaça de la Constitució.
- 10pm Concert by Celtas Cortos in the Claustre del Carme.
Saturday, 3 September
- 11am Optiomist regattas in the Port of Mahón, in front of the Club Marítimo.
- 4 – 8.30pm Roller skating display and rhythmic gym at the Poliesportiu Maó (sports centre).
- 4 – 9pm XX Festes de Gràcia petanca competition in the Plaza Explanada.
- 5.30pm Gathering for the Mare de Deu de Gràcia floral offering at the hermitage.
Street parties take place in various little squares and streets, with children’s games, food, music and dancing, starting 7pm, e.g. José y sus Muchachos band in the Patio de Ses Vinyes, Line dancing at the Molí des Pla; music, performances and surprises with the Orfeó Maonès in the Cos de Gràcia (8pm).
Sunday, 4 September
- 9am XII Petanca tournament at the Patio de Ses Vinyes.
- 10am XIX Cycle race on the industrial estate.
- 10am onwards. Circus fiesta at the Parque Es Freginal, including circus cabaret, 8pm
- 12.00. Grand paella competition in c/ Andrea Doria, followed at 6.30pm by Bingo.
- 8pm Line dancing in c/Ses Moreres, with Vicky Gómez and Tot Ball
- 8pm Exhibition of rhythmic gymnastics in the Claustre del Carme.
- 8.30pm Roller skating festival at the rink, c/del Carme.
- 9pm – 1.30am Italian music with Sandy Bonaiuto in the Plaça de la Constitució.
- 10pm Singing and percussion workshop with Eliseo Parra in the Claustre del Carme.
Monday, 5 September
- 7pm the musical group Va Gros, makes its traditional tour of the town centre, finishing at the Town Hall at 9.30pm
- 7.30pm Entertainment for children by Pinyeta Pinyol at the Plaça Colon.
- 9.30 – 11.30pm ‘Jazz Lab’ in the Plaça de la Constitució.
- 10pm Gospel concert with Moments a Cor in the Claustre del Carme.
- 10pm Music by the Denver Blues Band in the Plaça del Princep.
Tuesday, 6 September
- 6.15pm Gathering of the Mahón giants in the Plaça de la Constitució, after which they tour the town, together with visiting groups of giants and carnival figures and various musical bands.
- 7.30pm Giants’ ball in the Plaça de la Constitució.
- 8pm Concert by the Municipal Band in the Plaça de la Constitució.
- 9pm First notes of the flute at the Town Hall, followed by the Pregón, the official Crying of the Fiestas, and Menorcan songs.
- 10pm Grand dance in the Plaça España, presided over by the Town Crier, with music by Boulevard.
- 10pm Spectacle with the amics dels Diables de Maó (the Mahón Devils), with rat-a-tat-tat starting in Ses Moreres, and ‘correfocs’ (firesticks) in the Plaça Esplanada.
- 10.30 – midnight. Concert in the Plaça de la Constitució, with local bands.
Wednesday, 7 September
- 10am The Town Crier leaves the Town Hall to tour the streets announcing start of festivities.
- 11.30am Opening of the Gastronomic Fair in the Plaça Esplanada, which continues until 11 September.
- 4pm The Fabioler (herald) departs the Town Hall to summon the Caixera Fadrina (flagbearer).
- 4.05pm A burst of bells and bangers announce start of Fiestas. Immediately afterwards the parade of the streets begins, led by the Municipal Band, with the Giants and Carnival Figures of Maó, plus invited groups from elsewhere.
- 4.20pm The Fiesta Flag is presented to the Caixera Fadrina and the colcada (parade of horsemen) begins.
- 5pm The Caixer Batle (Fiesta Mayor) joins the parade.
- 7pm Solemn mass at the Ermita de Gràcia (hermitage), followed by supper for the horsemen, offered by the Capellana (Priest).
- 8.30pm the typical Jaleo in the Plaça de la Constitució, with music by the Municipal Band.
- 1.am Grand dance in the Plaça del Carme and Plaça Espanya, with music by Menorca Sound Machine.
Thursday, 8 September
- 7.30am Révéillé with Cap de Fibló band, after which the Fabioler collects the Caixera Fadrina, who is presented with the Fiesta Flag at the Town Hall.
- 8.20am The Colcada (cavalcade) sets out from the Plaça de la Conquesta, touring the streets until, in the c/Infanta, the statue of la Mare de Deu de Gràcia is incorporated into the cavalcade.
- 8.30am Chocolate for everyone in c/ Andrea Doria.
- 9am The parade of Giants and Carnival Figures sets out round the town.
- 11am Mass for the Caixers at the parish church of Santa María.
- 1pm The traditional Jaleo in the Plaça de la Constitució, to the music of Es Migorn town band, followed by presentation of canyes verdes (triumphal green canes) to the Caixers and Cavallers. The townspeople then utter the ‘Volem vi’ call for wine, which is followed by the reception for the Caixers.
- 6.45pm The cavalcade again sets out, making for the Cos de Gràcia, where the Corregudes (traditional horse races) are subsequently held.
- 8.30pm Last tour of the town by the cavalcade, followed by the last notes played on the flute by the Fabiol.
- 10pm Grand dance in the Plaça Espanya, with music by Huracán orchestra.
- 12.30pm Grand Firework Display from the Illa Pinta and the Naval Base.
Friday, 9 September
- 10.30am Inauguration of ‘L’artic es trenca’ exhibition, open morning and evening until October 3.
- 6pm Maritime Festival in the Port of Mahón (by the Port Authority). With exhibition of water scooters and other boats for anyone wishing to try.
- 7pm The Giants of Mahón go down to the Port for their last dance on the harbourside.
- 7pm The Municipal Band plays as it parades along the harbourside.
- 8.30pm At the ferry terminal: Typical Spanish dancing display by the Casa de Andalucía de Menorca.
- 10pm Traditional Catalan dances, at the ferry terminal.
- 8.30pm Rhythmic gymnastics exhibition on the harbourside at the bottom of the steps.
- 8.30pm and 9.30pm Music by Los Veteranos and Arrels de Menorca groups.
- 9pm Children’s entertainment by Pinyeta Pinyol on the harbourside.
- 9pm All time pop music with Café Soul on the harbourside.
- 9.30pm in the Mermaid area, music and fiesta with Spanglish Grup.
- 9.30pm In the Club Marítim area, classic pop music with Feedback.
- 11.30pm Grand firework display from the Illa Pinto.
Saturday, 10 September
- 11.30am Harbour swim from Calas Fons, Es Castell to the Port Authority area of Mahón harbour.
- 12.00 Short harbour swim from the Illa Pinto to the Port Authority.
- 5pm onwards. Rapid Chess Tournaments in the Carrer Nou.
- 6pm Special Festes de Gràcia trotting races at the Hippodrome, San Luis road.