We're all used to seeing flower crowns
sprouting up at festivals and weddings.
But for women and girls in one Spanish village, the accessory carries significant meaning — and is a centerpiece of a beautiful cultural tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
Each year, inhabitants of Colmenar Viejo, Spain, fill the streets to usher in the spring with their long-running Las Mayas
Central to the festivities are the Maya
girls, young women from the village who are adorned with flower crowns and staged at altars near the center of town. There, the girls must sit for hours, keeping a solemn vigil as other villagers visit to pay respects to their representation of the coming of springtime, renewal, and fertility.
The feast, which has pagan roots, is typically celebrated during the first week of May.
Spanish photographer Daniel Ochoa de Olza captured the ritual for The Associated Press — and his stunning images won him recognition from the World Press Photo Awards.
"There is an enormous cultural richness in the Iberian Peninsula, and it's paradoxical that it goes unnoticed when it is so close to us," Ochoa said to El País.
Ahead, photos and stories that shed light on the Las Mayas