The last Wednesday of every July, the city of Bayonne in the Basque region of France throws a massive city-wide party. Inspired in part by the festivities in Pamplona, Spain, the city of Bayonne has carried out this tradition since the year 1932. Originally sporting the colors of the city, blue and white, the official dress for the event now is to wear all white with red accents; whether a scarf, a hat, or a sash.
This unifying aspect of the community leaves a sense of pride among the citizens and visitors that gather along the Adour and Nive rivers that converge in the city center. A year ago, my family and I had the occasion to go and take part in the festivities. Every year the event begins at the town hall, where a giant puppet named King Leon throws the keys to the city over the balcony and into the crowd.
Based on a comic book character, King Leon is awakened each morning by the children of the city and will roam the streets during the next five days along with his entourage of other giants.
As a sister city of Pamplona, one can find many of the same events. The streets open up to crowds of eager people looking to make merry, and rosé wine is to be found on every street.
A constant thrumming of drums and blowing of horns carries on well into the night, while people flock to the bullring to either watch the fights or to witness other party goers be chased by the bulls. Carnival-like parades with tamborrados (groups of drummers) accompany the crowds as they make their way to the ring. Though the bulls play a major role in the festivities, one can also find traditional Basque songs and music being sung and played throughout the city.
In the parks, Basque sport competitions like Pelota (the forerunner to jai alai) take place. The evenings are crowned by a fireworks display along with concerts in the various squares. I remember best walking the streets and traversing the river multiple times with my family with groups of people eating under covered pavilions on park benches that line the streets. Every table, the group of party goers would have the same uniform. One group even went as far as to look like Waldo (or Charlie as he is called in French).
Of the live music that was playing throughout the city, one group in particular that covered old jazz songs, had me and my brothers wildly dancing with the other revelers one minute and just listening contentedly the next. Seven Hunt family members and the Fete de Bayonne made for happy memories. Here’s to making many more!