Just this week, on December 6th, was Spain’s Constitution Day, or Día de la Constitución. I’ve always thought that this national holiday was to celebrate the Spanish Constitution dating back to the first Spanish Republic in the 1820’s. What I’m learning is that this is not the case. There’s not as much out there about this topic that is in English, so let’s see if together we can get our heads around this and learn more by “writing” through it.
First things first – the official national holiday of Spain’s Constitution Day is actually in commemoration of the Spanish Constitutional Referendum of 1978. Yeah…many, many years and decades after the First Spanish Republic and any kind of Constitution in Spain. The Referendum was held on the date of December 6th in 1978 to adopt a new constitution that would replace many of the laws put into place during the Franco Era. The dictator had died a few years earlier in 1975.
From Francoist Spain to Spanish Democracy
From what I’ve read, it was surprising that the government he left in place made such drastic changes and took the direction of Democracy rather than continue the manner in which he had ruled. What “manner” would that be called – dictatorship is what it was. I do not claim to understand the politics and history of this very well – it seems confusing still to me – yet I’ve talked with some people who say that while Franco was a dictator he did a lot of “good” for the economy and changing the government and political scene of Spain. In my personal opinion, being a dictator is being a dictator, no matter what “good” you did. And Franco supported, and was supported by, Hitler and Mussolini. So with that set of friends and allies, I mean really…!?! And thus what Spain is still dealing with even more so today as its government continues to sweep things under the rug and the now elderly generation of Franco supporters and comrades from that time are still attempting to keep their a#!’s covered. At least until they die. Fortunately, that’s not continuing to work out so well for the Franco Era politicians.
Among the Spaniards, I’ve noticed that the holiday is not celebrated with the enthusiasm and fun that many others are. It is nice that it provides some time off from work to enjoy with family and friends. Those who think on its significance seem to give more commemoration to the Spanish Republic in general. And that is where the First and Second Spanish Republics come into the picture.
The Spanish Republic
I’ve seen more Spaniards spend this holiday remembering other historical Spanish figures, such as my family ancestor General Rafael del Riego. He played an important role during the Napoleonic Wars and the Spanish War of Independence. The Spanish National Anthem, Himno de Riego, was written in his honor for the uprising he led against King Fernando VII. The result was that a Constitution was written and put into place that was a pact between the monarchy and the people. At that time, 1820, this was a revolutionary kind of government and the beginning attempts of Democracy for Spain. It unfortunately lasted for a very short time since the King soon went back on it and executed General del Riego, among many others.
So I’ve been very fascinated with the historical figure of General Rafael del Riego, especially because he is my 4th great-uncle and part of the ancestry that I feel strongly connected to here in Spain. What I learned this year for the first time (and thanks to an article my mom found and shared with me – thanks mama) is that Spain’s first national anthem, Himno de Riego, which was named after the General, was written by a Spanish composer from Valencia.
Jose Melchor Gomis and Colomer was born in the Valencian town of Ontinyent. Throughout his lifetime, he studied and composed music in London, Paris, Barcelona and, of course, Valencia. For the longest time, history has been giving credit of the anthem to Evaristo Fernández de San Miguel and Valledor of Gijon. It is only in recent years that the discovery was made that it was actually Jose Melchor Gomis who is the true author and composer of el Himno de Riego. Since then his other works, such as a French opera called Le Diable à Seville (The Devil of Seville), and many other works, have been “brought to light”.
Spain’s Constitution Day
I wonder about how much people know about this “national holiday” in Spain. I’m still learning a lot and trying to remember all the details of history accurately. What I do know though, is that I don’t feel a great thrill to think of giving some joyous credit or attention to the Constitution that was voted on in 1978. That almost seems like a joke to me; as if the politicians at that time thought they were doing some amazing, gracious favor for Spain and the world…A Constitution for Spain goes back so much further. I am very grateful that this Constitution was voted in by the people and brought about Democracy. At the same time, many recognize that it was hundreds of years in the making. Even though Spaniards have been encouraged to “forget” the past for so long, I think we’re seeing that this will never truly happen, nor does it need to. One can remember, look reality straight in the face and call for ownership of the past, and still forgive and celebrate.