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Old Spanish Days Means Parties And Parades, But Most Don't Know About How It's Kept History Alive

A group of young kids dressed in colorfully decorated constumes is dancing on a stage in Santa Barbara’s De La Guerra Plaza.

It’s part of the 95th annual Old Spanish Days celebration, which is five days of food, music, dance, and much more to commemorate the community’s heritage.

While hundreds of thousands of people will take part in the celebration, most don’t know how it started, or what specifically it’s commemorating.

It’s about Santa Barbara’s history, focused on a very specific period of it. Erin Graffy is a historian who’s written numerous articles and books about Santa Barbara’s history, including “Old Spanish Days: Santa Barbara History Through Public Art.”

She says in 1924, community leaders decided they wanted an annual summer celebration, one which would focus on Santa Barbara's heritage.

She talks about the period of time that’s the centerpiece of the celebration. It was the 1830’s, in what many call the Rancho period. Graffy says people living in the region didn’t considered themselves Mexicans, or Spaniards. They called themselves Californios, or Californians.

Graffy says one of the things that’s unique about Old Spanish Days is that while many communities have lost the culture from this period of time, Santa Barbara has preserved it largely thanks to the annual celebration. It’s helped preserve some of the historic dance and music from the 1800’s.

The historian says one of the great things about Old Spanish Days over the decades is that it’s become inclusive, in a way everyone regardless of heritage can take part.

Graffy notes that while Old Spanish Days is the official name of the celebration, over the years many people have taken to simply calling it Fiesta.

Back at de La Guerra Plaza, the home of one of the Fiesta marketplaces, people are enjoying the live entertainment, and food from booths operated by non-prfits and fundraisers. Most people are less concerned about the why of Old Spanish Days than the “what”, as in “what” can we eat next.

Friends see old friends, and groups of co-workers come to enjoy the atmosphere, and food. The Old Spanish Days celebration continues with food, shows, parades, and much more through Sunday.