Nora Johnson – Spain’s rich cultural heritage

“Las Mayas”

With origins shrouded in mystery and a history stretching back to medieval times, the festivities of La Maya offer a unique spectacle heralding spring’s arrival. In early May around Madrid, families gather to select the girls aged between seven and 11 who will become this year’s “Mayas”.

Abundant in symbolism, this tradition is all about themes of fertility, prosperity and blessing the upcoming agricultural season. Families meticulously craft elaborate altars adorned with flowers and herbs from the surrounding countryside, fashioning a wreath the girl wears like a crown.

A lush carpet of freshly picked plants adorns the altars, flanked by vases overflowing with flowers. With no written guidelines, everything is passed down orally for generations.

On festival day, wearing petticoats, white shirts and Manila shawls, the Mayas perch on the altars, accompanied by attendants who offer to brush your clothes in exchange for donations to cover the family’s outgoings! After two hours of absolute stillness, they proceed to the church for a service, a tradition now firmly embraced by churches despite its pagan origins.

The festival’s name originates in Greco-Roman myth, where Maia, a companion of Artemis, symbolised the fertility of spring, ultimately giving the month of May its name as it marks – curtain up, drum roll – the height of spring!

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Nora Johnson’s 12 critically acclaimed psychological suspense crime thrillers, including the latest ‘The Couple across the Street’ (, all available online at Amazon etc. Profits to Cudeca cancer charity.       

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Written by

Nora Johnson

Novelist Nora Johnson offers insights on everything from current affairs to life in Spain, with humour and a keen eye for detail.