HGA Knows: The San Antonio Fiesta
Rio de Janerio has Carnival, New Orleans has Mardi Gras, and here in San Antonio, we have a FIESTA!
Fiesta San Antonio is a city-wide celebration that started in 1891 as a way to honor the memory of the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The first Battle of Flowers parade had horse-drawn carriages, bicycles decorated with fresh flowers and floats carrying children dressed as flowers. The participants pelted each other with blossoms, giving the parade its namesake. Today, it is the largest parade in Fiesta, second in size nationally only to the Tournament of Roses Parade.
What started as a one day celebration has evolved into an 11-day party with dozens of events for people, both young and old. Every year Fiesta draws approximately half a million locals, and thousands of visitors from around the world to the various events hosted throughout the city.
During its eleven day run, Fiesta offers festivals with food and drinks a plenty, outdoor live entertainment, Fiesta themed theater productions, and carnival rides in the Alamodome parking lot. Avid Fiesta goers have their itineraries down to a science, and everyone you ask will give you a different answer for the must go-to Fiesta events.
Among the most popular events are the Fiesta Oyster Bake and Night In Old San Antonio, or NIOSA, as it is known by locals. Oyster Bake is held the first Friday and Saturday of Fiesta on the grounds of St. Mary’s University. In 2016, Oyster Bake is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The two-day party is planned and hosted by St. Mary’s University and all proceeds are used towards funding student scholarships and the betterment of the campus and surrounding community. The must-have item at this celebration? A raw oyster shooter with a Tabasco chaser. Yummy!
Night in Old San Antonio is a 4-day outdoor festival that gets its name from its host location at La Villita. La Villita or “little town” was one of San Antonio’s first neighborhoods in the 18th century. NIOSA is sponsored by and benefiting the San Antonio Conservation Society (one of the nation’s oldest and most active historic preservation organizations). NIOSA runs the Tuesday – Friday leading up to the Fiesta finale, and it is where local favorites such as chicken on a stick, corn in a cup, and of course margaritas can be found in abundance.
The Battle of Flowers parade, also known as the day parade by locals, takes place the last Friday of Fiesta. Schools are closed and a lot of locals take the day off to get out and enjoy the magnificent parade that marches down a 2.8 mile route through Downtown San Antonio.
On Saturday, the Fiesta Flambeau Parade, America’s largest illuminated parade, brings hordes of people to Downtown San Antonio for a night of fun, dancing, and cheering for your favorite float. Considered by many as the Grand Finale to the Fiesta season, the parade features live music from many local and visiting high school bands, and floats carrying a multitude of Fiesta royalty showing off their extravagant gowns. Bleacher seating for this parade sells out approximately a month before the parade date. Definitely a must watch celebration, whether in person, on television, or via livestream.
Apart from the events and the parades, another aspect unique to Fiesta and San Antonio is the distribution and collection of Fiesta Medals. Think of these as our version of Mardi Gras beads. Everyone wants to get their hands on as many medals as they can find. The most dedicated Fiesta-ers swap or buy medals from other “medal maniacs” as they like to be called. What started as a tradition established by Fiesta royalty in 1971, has grown into a San Antonio phenomenon that Corporate and Non-Profit groups partake in. Everyone competes to have the most fun and creative medal every year. Currently the only reward is having an overwhelming public reception of your medal.
San Antonio is a city with such great history and culture hidden around every corner, and Fiesta is the one time of year where we as a city celebrate everything our hometown has to offer. 2016 marks the 125th anniversary of Fiesta and the festivities are guaranteed to be bigger and better than ever, in true Texas style.
Fiesta San Antonio occurs in late- April every year, exact dates vary. If heading down to Rio Carnival is not an option, make your way over to San Antonio and Fiesta with the rest of us. VIVA FIESTA!