La Tamborrada. Prepare yourself to see and hear how San Sebastian in Spain comes alive with the sound of thousands of beating drums and small barrels.
Drum roll, por favor! Take your ear plugs to San Sebastian in January, because it’s time once again for the distinct and deafening La Tamborrada. Prepare yourself to see and hear how this sleepy resort town comes alive with the sound of thousands of beating drums and small barrels, all day and all night.
Spain is known for hosting some exceptionally wild parties, but nothing can prepare you for the high-decibel madness of La Tamborrada. It's a short but intense festival and it works like this: from midnight to midnight, the various drum corps that exist in San Sebastian march through the streets of this coastal town. Perfectly uniformed, these groups stroll through the town playing their drums and barrels in honor of the patron saint of Donostia (then name of the city in the Basque language).
The party begins at midnight on January 19th in the Plaza de la Constitution with the ceremonial raising of the flag. Once this occurs, the different groups begin their march through streets and neighborhoods of the Old City—something that doesn’t stop for the next 24 hours. At the break of dawn the drummers take a little break to have a light breakfast of cognac and churros.
The different drum corps that parade through the town represent San Sebastian tradition that’s still fiercely defended to this day: the gastronomic societies that San Sebastian calls home. Because of the pride and rivalry these culinary “gangs” exhibit, the competition can get heated but always remains good natured.
Like many Spanish traditions, the origin of La Tamborrada is not entirely known. The typical story goes like this: around 1720 a baker was filling water barrels from a fountain near the Church of San Vicente. While filling the barrels a group of young girls passing by started banging on his barrels as though they were drumming with the intention to entertain and accompany the baker. Shortly thereafter, a crowd started to gather and from there, this impromptu jam session evolved into the spectacle you see today.
Some years later the composer, Raimundo Sarriegui, composed the "March of San Sebastian". This piece is a series of drum compositions that are played every year during La Tamborrada. At one point, the townspeople suggested adding lyrics to the composition, but Sarriegui refused arguing that there was no way to improve the sound of the drums and barrels.