The following extract is from A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia, which is available, in print and as an ebook, from Amazon.
Every town in the Basque Country has their fiesta day. In Hondarribia, it is the 8th September, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (which is also the name of the church that overlooks Hondarribia from the ridge near the range of Jaizkibel). On this day in 1638, the town broke a 69 day siege by 27,000 French troops. It is celebrated with the Alarde, which is a quasi-military procession, performed (mainly) by the men of the town.
This is a very macho festival. The men march in companies, carrying the traditional whistles (most commonly the txistu), drums, or guns (we don’t know whether they are all live rounds, but at least some of them are. One year someone was killed when they were shot on a balcony. This hasn’t stopped them.). A token woman is selected by each company, sort of like an individual contender for Miss Basque Country. They don’t have to be pretty (though they usually are), but they do have to be considered the sweetest girl around. The women do not march. Except that is starting to change. There is one mixed company, which has not been well received. We saw them march and didn’t see any hostility, but we were told that they are often booed by the crowds. The march takes the companies around the town all morning and then up to the Virgin of Guadalupe for a midday ceremony.
You can read more about Basque culture, food and places by checking out
A Basque Diary – Living in Hondarribia.