Largely influenced by Spanish culture, the Dominican Republic is a country known for its string of Fiestas Patronales. Fiestas Patronales or patronage festivals are celebrations held in honor of various saints that have been adopted by towns or Municipalities. In the Dominican Republic, there are hundreds of Fiestas Patronales celebrated each year, with each month seeing the celebration of as much as 12 holidays. Every day, it seems, Dominican Republic celebrates regional Fiestas Patronales.
Most towns in the Dominican Republic have their own celebrations of their Patron Saints. Typically, the celebrations start on the Friday approximately one week preceding the prescribed date of the Feast. The Sunday before the Feast date is celebrated by parades of ‘imahenes’ or images of the Saints being celebrated that are usually made of wood.
On the appointed date of the Feast, Dominicans gather to start the local celebration, and on some occasions National Celebrations, which include the parade of the images of the saint being commemorated, the parade of Street Dancers and performers, live Band Music, prayers, gastronomic Feasts, and of course, Street Parties. The assortment of activities varies slightly from one Patron Saint to another, and from one town to another. Apparently, although the Catholic ceremonies and services are held, the majority of the celebration is anything but very religious.
Starting the year is one of the most significant Fiesta Patronal of the Dominican Republic the Virgen de Altagracia. It is celebrated as the most important religious day in the nation, which is participated by thousands of devoted Dominicans. In 1922, Pope Pius XI crowned the Virgen de la Altagracia as the Spiritual Mother of the country.
Legend has it that the image of Our Lady of Altagracia that was brought by two men to Hispaniola in 1502 performed a miracle that has later encouraged the early Spanish Settlers to build the first church in the province called Higuey. Nowadays, thousands of pilgrims and devotees pray and visit the Basilica of Altagracia that in Higuey to show their devotion to the Virgin Mother of Christ.
Perhaps the most important Fiesta Patronal celebrated in the Dominican Republic, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, also known as Our Lady of Mercedes and Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, is held every 24th of September. It is a non-working holiday that commemorates the adopted Patron Saint of the Dominican people. This celebration is distinct because it is specifically celebrated by way a pilgrimage to Saint Cerro’s shrine near the city of La Vega.
There are plenty of other fiestas patronales celebrated throughout the country. From the beginning of the year to the end, there is no shortage of Catholic festivities in the Dominican Republic. After all, it is a Spanish practice and has become the Domincans’ practice to associate each town with a patron saint. Although the most famous include Feasts that are celebrated in Santo Domingo and Higuey thanks to their distinct way of celebrating their festivities with joyous parades and artful costumes.