La Mercè (Catalan pronunciation: [ɫə mərˈsɛ]) is the annual festival (festa major in Catalan) of the city of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. It has been an official city holiday since 1871, when the local government first organized a program of special activities to observe the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, La Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Catalan. Although the actual feast day is September 24, the festivities begin a few days beforehand.
Some of the most important features of the festival were introduced in the year 1902, when parades included papier maché “giants” known as gegants i capgrossos, the first Castell competition in the city, and a popular dance from Empordà that was becoming popular throughout Catalonia: the Sardana. The holiday has enjoyed immense local popularity ever since.
Among more recently introduced traditions are the annual Catalan Wine Fair, a special correfoc, a 10 KM race and the pyro-musical, a display featuring synchronized fireworks, water fountains and music conducted at the base of the Montjuïc mountain.
This celebration of religious origin, in honor of the Virgin of Grace (Mare de Déu de la Mercè), who is the patron saint of Barcelona district, while Saint Eulàlia is the patron saint of the city[clarification needed]. In Catalan, the word mercè has meanings related to service, help, a sense of compassion, and loving mercy. The Mare de Déu de la Mercè reminded the faithful remembrance of those who are in trouble (the desgracia in Catalan). In the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, there is a basilica dedicated to the Virgin.
The festival has been celebrated since the Middle Ages when, in 1687, Barcelona suffered a plague of locusts. To fight against insects, Barcelona prayed to the Virgin. At the end of the invasion she was named patroness of the city of Barcelona, although this was only recognized by the Pope in 1868. Since that time, ever year this festival is celebrated, starting on the 21st of September and finishing on the 25th.