Say the name Gran Canaria, and the first things that people are likely to think of are sun, sand, British holidaymakers and rainbow themed festivities. A favourite destination of Brits seeking a slice of sunshine not too far from home, and for gay and lesbian folk to be able to pick up a tan amidst a lot of frolicking, it’s safe to say that Gran Canaria, the largest of the Canary Islands, the Spanish island chain in the Atlantic Ocean, is, like its sister islands Tenerife and Lanzarote, largely known for all-inclusive deals and droves of summer tourists than it is for its unique culture. A number operators offer holidays to the Gran Canaria; First Choice, Thomson and Thomas Cook to name a few. If you were to ask someone about culture in the Canary Islands, chances are they’d scratch their heads – culture vultures usually head to the Spanish mainland and the likes of Madrid, Granada and Seville as opposed to these sizzling specks of land. Not surprisingly given its location, Gran Canaria has developed a culture different from the cities on the mainland, and has numerous events throughout the year to celebrate its unique heritage and history. Check out www.globalsu.net for bus and tram transport information.
So, what kind of events can people searching for a slice of Gran Canarian culture expect? Well this year, on September 7th, the annual Our Lady of the Pine procession, or the ‘Virgen del Pino’, takes place in the town of Teror, and it’s one of the year’s most important festivities on the Gran Canarian calendar. So, whereabouts is Teror and what’s so special about it? Well, Teror is located in the mountainous northern region of Gran Canaria, in a uniquely picturesque area choc full of, perhaps not surprisingly given the procession’s name, pine forests. In a refreshing change from the concrete and neon that dominates the island’s resort towns, Teror is also home to what is arguably the island’s most elegant colonial architecture.
What is the whole festival actually about and where did it originate from, though? Well, according to local legend, in the fifteenth century – the year 1481, to be precise – the Virgin Mary appeared to a group of local shepherds in one of the mountainous pine forests outside of Teror. Since the first sighting over five centuries ago, the patron saint of the entire island of Gran Canaria has been, ‘Our Lady of the Pine’. Nowadays, Our Lady of the Pine is honoured with a procession where thousands of Catholic worshippers walk through the night, carrying offerings, gifts and petitions for the lady, in the hope that their prayers will be answered. The procession ends at the church in Teror’s main square, with representatives from the island’s twenty-one municipalities, and pilgrims from the other six Canary Islands, offering local produce to Our Lady of the Pine.
Teror’s town centre then transforms, with people hawking food and drinks at stalls in the town square and the entire town square becoming a ‘verbena’, or a party al fresco.The celebrations continue well on into the night – it is Gran Canaria after all – with people dancing to the rhythms of Latin music from the various bands that play in the town square. The residents of Gran Canaria love a party almost as much as their patron saint.
If you’re fancying getting away from the beach on your holiday to Gran Canaria, then Our Lady of the Pine is a chance to enjoy the island’s unique culture and gain an insight into a side of this paradise that the tourist brochures don’t usually talk about. Just don’t forget to pack your rosary beads. And make sure you’ve broken in your dancing shoes.