Public holidays in Spain from the expat’s perspective

The theory of Spanish holidays

Where I live in Spain, there are 13 public holidays, los días inhábiles. I say “where I live” and not “in Spain”, because the number of days depends on the autonomous community and on the local municipality. The holidays in Spain have three levels:

  • national (9 days).
  • autonomous community (2 or 3 days) — it’s two for Comunidad Valenciana, my home comunidad.
  • municipal level (up to 2 days) — people know these as fiestas locales. Each municipality can pick how many, when and for what purpose they use these days.

The municipal holidays are announced at the end of each year for the upcoming year. I think they never change.

For comparison, there are 16 public holidays in Slovakia in 2023, the most in the European Union. Slovakia and Iceland tie if we look at all European countries. Belgium and Ireland have the least holidays in the EU — 10.

To see the list of national and autonomous holidays in Spain, search for calendario laboral.

It’s days like any other

There were 3 public holidays in Spain in the past 30 days and I haven’t celebrated any of them. By celebrating, I don’t mean being joyful and festive. I mean that I didn’t take a day off work at all.

This is not to show off how hard working and dedicated I’m. I made a note of these days and will for sure “use them” later around Christmas to spend more time with family. The point here is to show my perception of public holidays as an expatriate.

El día de la Comunidad Valenciana and El día de la Hispanidad were in the same week in October. My team spreads across a few countries and I’m the only person living in Spain. Not working wouldn’t be practical. I wasn’t in the need for extra rest, either.

These days also don’t mean a lot to me. The fact that Cristóbal Colón discovered America 531 years ago doesn’t resonate with me.

Freedom to choose when to work

This week was the All Saints’ Day, El día de los muertos. It’s celebrated also in Slovakia, where some of my teammates are. This year, the day disrupted the week by falling on Wednesday. I chose to work. I enjoy the freedom to decide. A few things allow for this flexibility:

  • all the work is in the cloud. Thanks to the asynchronous communication, other people don’t have to be there in real-time for me to do my work. As long as there’s electricity and internet connection, I can provide value.
  • our company culture accepts working on holiday and taking a day off at another suitable time

I understand this doesn’t apply to jobs involving physical spaces and real-time interactions. It might also not be possible in more rigid or traditional workspaces.

There’s a benefit of working when most people aren’t — there are no meetings and very little interruptions. A few times I met a colleague online after a day like that and we agreed how wonderful and productive it was.

No expectations from me

If I was in Slovakia on November 1st, I would have a day off. Since I’ve moved to Spain, the holidays are a perfect chance for the universe to show me how uprooted I am. No one has social expectations from me, expects my visit or questions how I spend my day. In fact no one knows or cares about what I’m doing on these days at all. This may sound disheartening, but it isn’t. It’s liberating.

Fiestas locales

Many towns and villages use at least one of the two local holidays to celebrate their patron saint. In my pueblo, they celebrate Sant Lorenç in August. The festivities last a week. Each day starts at 8am with “despertà”, a “waking up”. It’s a parade led by two musicians announcing the beginning of the day to “els festers”(“celebrants”, “partygoers” in valenciano). The program often continues late into the night.”

Loud music, fireworks and not getting enough sleep is not our type of fun. We learnt our lesson the first year here. This year we took our holidays in France during las fiestas patronales. The plan for next year is the same.

If you want to learn more about fiestas in our village and get a taste of valenciano/catalan language, you can read this article.

Wonderful Christmas and Easter in Spain

At Christmas and Easter, we follow the calendar and tradition and take time off. Before moving to Spain, we spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Tenerife, the Canary Islands. Since moving to the Iberian Peninsula, we’ve celebrated two Easters here. The time off and being free from social expectations allowed us to have wonderful experience each time. Doing what we love — in beautiful places.

It is what you make it

People living abroad can use holidays to follow a local way of life and to integrate in the community. One can also recharge their batteries in complete anonymity and privacy. To go (or connect) to work is an option. And it’s also okay if a public holiday passes without a person realising.

When we know what matters to us, we can shape how these special days look for us, regardless of where we are. That way we can be content at the end of any (holi)day.

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