Old Spanish Days swung into high gear on Wednesday with El Mercado de la Guerra and Mercado del Norte — two carnival-like open air markets designed to get participants in the spirit of Fiesta with traditional Mexican and Spanish food, live entertainment, carnival rides and arts, crafts and souvenir vendors.
Mercado del Norte is being held at Mackenzie Park on State Street and is traditionally the more family-oriented of the two festivals.
This year, the venue is divided into four different sections — a food court with foods ranging from traditional Mexican fare to carnival classics such as funnel cakes, a bazaar featuring local vendors, carnival rides — complete with roller coasters and Ferris wheels — and the Crazy Horse Cantina, where adults can purchase beers and margaritas and enjoy live entertainment.
Mercado de la Guerra, which takes place at De La Guerra Plaza, offers vendors peddling traditional Spanish and Mexican attire, pottery and various other souvenir arts and crafts. Dining options included abundant taquería, barbecue and seafood stands, with dancing performances and live concerts will be going on throughout the day.
Both festivals will continue from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Saturday, with new entertainment daily.
Santa Barbara resident Steven Perry, who has been attending Fiesta for roughly 25 years, said he enjoys the community-oriented atmosphere that Fiesta provides, and how it brings together locals from across the area.
“It’s like a family barbecue that involves the whole city,” Perry said. “It’s been a mainstay in the city for a really long time, and it’s great for the economy because it brings a lot of tourism in.”
As Fiesta kicks off, vendors selling painted confetti-filled eggs, known as cascarones, are becoming ubiquitous on State Street sidewalks. These colorful creations are meant to be smashed over other festival-goers’ heads, and are the reason that downtown streets become blanketed with confetti each year during the Fiesta celebration.
La Salva Manso, who has been selling her own painted eggs at Fiesta for about 10 years, said the tradition was originally a means of flirtation at carnivals in Mexico.
“Girls would buy these eggs and smash them over the heads of boys they liked, and if the boys smiled at them, they would know they liked them back,” Manso said.
Manso said the event brings in a significant amount of income for her, and she expects to sell about 100 boxes of 180 eggs. Manso will begin painting next year’s batch of cascarones immediately after the festival ends this year.
Both El Mercado de la Guerra and El Mercado del Norte are featuring traditional Spanish classical, Flamenco and Folklorico performances by dancers from local studios throughout each day. Tori Saunders, who performs Folklorico with the Alma de Mexico dance studio, said she and her fellow dancers have been preparing for this event all year.
Angel Valenzuela, who performed Flamenco at El Mercado del Norte on Wednesday, said it was exciting to participate in such a major event for the community.
“I’ve been dancing in Fiesta since I was 5. Performing before a huge crowd always gets me really pumped, and the Flamenco style of music is awesome,” Valenzuela said.