Many literary contests were held in Galicia during the 19th century, usually on the occasion of local celebrations, commemorations or events such as regional exhibitions. These competitions provided an ideal platform for provincialists and regionalists, who utilized such events to disseminate their ideological and cultural programmes, not without sparking some tension amongst themselves and vis-à-vis the representatives of Spanish nationalism. Poetry was the prevailing genre in these contests, but historical essays, art, ethnographic studies and reports on various socio-economic aspects were also included. The Galician language never dominated in the competitions, except in specific cases; this changed in the 1880s, with the creation of awards for drama, fiction or translation. Thematically, most texts breathed , celebrating or figures, as well as . This is why, beyond the issue of what language was used, these contests helped establish a Galician imaginary.
Many contests took the form of “Floral Games”, a reinvention of troubadour poetry contests which had spread in northern Spain from and since the late 1850s. They were a mixture of literary contest and social festivity under the motto “Patria. Fides. Amor”; the awards were presented during soirées held in the main theatres, with speeches by the organizers and local authorities, the appointment of a queen in charge of presenting the awards, the reading of the award-winning works, and musical interludes.
The first Galician Floral Games were held in on 2 July 1861. Seven awards, whose themes and motifs were mainly related to Galicia, were announced for texts written either in Galician or in Spanish. The exception was the first of these awards, to be given for the best poem “To Galicia”, written in Galician; only a second prize was awarded (to the by Francisco ). The awards and their publication in the – with a selection of works by contemporary Galician poets – were financed by José Pascual López Cortón, who donated the proceeds to the poorhouse, in a gesture that combined the promotion of the arts and public charity.
Another Floral Games festival was held on 11 August in . Mainly a poetic contest, it also included an award for the best report on the reasons for the extreme subdivision of property in Galicia and how to improve this. The first prize – for a poem in Galician – was not awarded, and the prizes went only to texts in Spanish.
Literary competitions succeeded each other in cities and towns over the following decades. Especially important were those held in 1877 in (marking the triumphant literary debut of ) and in A Coruña; the Pontevedra Floral Games of 1882 (with a prize awarded to Manuel ’s study of the foro land tenure); the Floral Games of 1886 and again 1887, organized by the newspaper Las mariñas (where awards were given for poetry, novels, fables or legends in Galician); and the Pontevedra Floral Games of 1886, organized by the (monolingually Galician) newspaper O Galiciano (which included awards for novels, drama, historical and literary essays, as well as for poetry and musical compositions). This series culminated in the Floral Games held in in 1891 on the initiative of the Asociación Regionalista Gallega (“Galician Regionalist Association”) as part of its public self-promotion strategy. Organized as Xogos Froraes de Galicia, the contest only included awards for works written in “ancient or modern” Galician. In parallel, a bagpipe and folk-dance competition was organized. Manuel Murguía, as chairman, and other members of the committee gave several fervently regionalistic speeches in Galician, while local dignitaries, including members of the Church, played a major role in the organization; the awards were sponsored by notables, most of whom were not regionalists. Apart from poetry, there were awards for comedy, translation, historical studies and a report on antiquities in Galicia.
The following years saw a clear decline in the use of Galician in these contests, in spite of the presence of regionalist figures in the juries – the Floral Games of 1895 were chaired by Murguía; the Floral Games of 1896 attracted the participation of , and Barcia, with chairing the music competition. In the Ourense Floral Games of 1901, with Emilia as speaker and Filomena in the chair, the Galician language was barely present at all, in spite of the vast array of genres and themes for which awards were given. In the early decades of the century, Galician literature obtained irregular results in the newly organized games and was only given a major boost after the creation of the (“Brotherhoods of the Language”) in 1916.
These contests stimulated new directions in literary production and a diversification of genres in Galician literature; they promoted the study of history and popular culture and fostered the application of scientific knowledge towards resolving Galicia’s social and economic problems; in addition, they advanced musical composition and performance and provided a platform for the proclamation of a Galician public culture.