The Great Week has been held annually since 1987, and the August celebrations already coincided with the visit of the circus to the city, the fairgrounds, the bullfights, boxing matches and traditional dance performances. It is organized according to a particular organizational model between the groups (since 2002, the Federation Bilboko Konpartsak) and the council of Bilbao. The origin of this model was the organization of a competition of ideas by El Corte Inglés -through Kiko Mochales - for the festival, which was awarded with hundred thousand pesetas, in order to organize a new model that was participatory and would revitalize the decrepit and poor Great Week of Francoism. The competition was won by the project presented by Txomin Barullo, currently one of the pioneers group of Bilbao, and consisted of a shared organization between the council and the festival groups, festive character troupes from different districts of Bilbao and representing different socio-political sensibilities of the time.
The first event of the festival is the release of the chupinazo, also known as the initial rocket, which has taken place since 2001 in the Arriaga's theatre square. This includes the initial rocket launch by the txupinera, and the reading of the proclamation by the town crier or herald.
In 1980, then-Mayor Jon Castañares (PNV) decided that the council would organize the Great Week alone. Given the boycott of the groups, which did not install their fair booths, known as txosnas, nor participated in any act, the council withdrew and the festival week of 1981 resumed the collaborative model of 1978.
In 1983, the Great Week had to be suspended due to severe flooding caused by the overflow of the Nervion-Ibaizábal.
On July 2, 2009 the festival was chosen as one of the 10+2 Intangible Cultural Heritage Treasures of Spain, getting first place in the classification.
The party groups, known as comparsas (konpartsak in basque), are the heart of the Great Week of Bilbao. Emerged with the festive pattern of 1978 and they are "cuadrillas", groups of people, who come together to energize the holidays through the txoznas of El Arenal, music and different activities during the nine days.
Not only perform activities in the Great Week, but also encourage the Carnival and Fair St. Thomas. Currently there are 28 troupes, and the oldest are Bizizaleak, Hontzak, Pinpilinpauxa, Satorrak, Tintigorri, Txomin Barullo y Uribarri.
The herald, known as 'chupinera', is responsible for launching the rocket announcing the beginning of the festivities. Each year is chosen from the female members of the troupe that has resulted elected in the draw in the draw held at the Coordinator or Federation of Troupes, not entering it favored those already in previous years, not entering on it those already favored in previous years.
In 1981, besides the parties announcer rocket, is entrusted with the task of launching another rocket every day at seven in the morning with which a new festive day starts. In that year, given the significant increase in its work, a "reserve" herald was chosen, which corresponded to the group Kezkalariak, not being repeated since as not considered necessary.
In 1983 with the intention of giving greater prominence, the sculptor José Angel Lasa realized in oak wood the hanger for the rocket, the 'botafuego' (stick whose end is placed the rocket) and the makila, in sign of authority, pertaining to their office. They are saved in the City council and are delivered by the outgoing one to the newly elected.
Already in 1985, the Coordinator of groups covered the cost of the specific uniform for the office designed by Alejandro Gutierrez, it consists of a red tunic with large shoulder pads, with bright black collar, epaulets and double row of gold buttons; worsted black skirt, tubed; red beret with the shield of the Villa de Bilbao embroidery and black patent leather shoes with white socks. The uniform of the herald has similarities with the Carlist troops which besieged and bombarded during the first Siege of Bilbao, especially its characteristic red beret.
Throughout all the festivities of Bilbao, the heralds were as follows:1978: Ana Isabel Arceniega, Araba Etxea group.
1979: María Jesús Aguirregoitia, Uribarri group.
1981: Montse Valerio, Kaixo group.
1982: Anabel Fernández, Moskotarrak group.
1983: Alazne Olabarrieta, Mamiki group.
1984: María Ascensión Cruces, Txintxarri group.
1985: María Luisa Crespo, Intxausti group.
1986: Manoli Cruces, Gautxoriak group.
1987: Magdalena Landa, Ardoa Barrura group.
1988: Itziar Pagalday, Zaratarrak group.
1989: Eva Dolado, Bizizaleak group.
1990: Itxaso Goti, Kaskagorri group.
1991: Miren Barrutia, Hau Pittu Hau! group.
1992: Txelo Martínez, Tximitxurri group.
1993: Nerea Ahedo, Adiskideak group.
1994: Josune Bañales, Gogorregi group.
1995: Sandra Guzman, Hontzak group.
1996: Arantza de Jesús, Hor Dago! group.
1997: Sonia Charcan, Aixe Berri group.
1998: Sonia Villamor, Kobetas Mendi group.
1999: Arantza Garbayo, Pa..Ya group.
2000: Aitziber Zalbide, Lehoiak group.
2001: Berta García, Irrintzi group.
2002: Lurdes Luke, Satorrak group.
2003: Maite Pérez, Pinpilinpauxa group.
2004: Begoña Benedicto, Askapeña group.
2005: Aitziber Adell Ateca, Tintigorri group.
2006: Marta Gerrikabeitia, Sinkuartel group.
2007: Larraitz Cisneros, Altxaporrue group.
2008: Isabel Isazelaia, Algara group.
2009: Sonia Polo, Eguzkizaleak group.
2010: Aratz Irazabal, Txinbotarrak group.
2011: Patricia Lezama, Mekauen group.
2012: Nerea Orizaola, Zaratas group.
Since 1978, Marijaia is the official symbol of the holidays and since 1997 has an own song, known as "Badator Marijaia", composed by Kepa Junkera and whose lyrics is of the Basque writer Edorta Jimenez.
Marijaia is the figure of a plump lady with her arms forever raised in dance. She was born on August 19, 1978, created by Mari Puri Herrero, who designed and built it in just five days, after the order of the Festival Committee.
The concerts are an important part of the Great Week. Within the official program there have included performances by artists such as Ainhoa Cantalapiedra, Alpha Blondy, Amaral, Ana Torroja, Andy & Lucas, Antonio Orozco, Asian Dub Foundation, Augustus Pablo, Baccara, Barón Rojo, Basque Dub Foundation, Benito Lertxundi, Berri Txarrak, Burning Spear, Carlinhos Brown, Carlos Núñez, Carmen París, Chambao, Chenoa, Chico y Chica, Coldplay, Coti, Dani Martín, Diego Martín, Doctor Deseo, Dover, Egan, El Arrebato, Earth Wind and Fire, El Consorcio, El Mentón de Foggarty, Fangoria, Fito & los Fitipaldis, Fundación Tony Manero, Gari, Guano Apes, Hiru Truku, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Iguana Tango, Ismael Serrano, Jeanette, Jorge Drexler, Juan Magán, Juanes, Karina, Keane Ken Zazpi, Kepa Junkera, La Otxoa, La Mala Rodríguez, La quinta estación, La sonrisa de Julia, Liam O'Flynn, Los Del Río, Luar na Lubre, M Clan, Mägo de Oz, Mano Negra, Manu Chao, Marlango, Melendi, Merche Micky, Miguel Bosé, Morodo, Negu Gorriak, Nena Daconte, OBK, Orishas, Pennywise, Pereza, Pet Shop Boys, Pignoise, Potato, Primal Scream, Public Enemy, Reincidentes, Ruper Ordorika, Safri Duo, Santiago Auserón, Septeto Santiaguero, Sergio Dalma, Simple Minds, Ska-P, Sólo los Solo, Su ta Gar, The Pogues, The Prodigy, Tony Ronald, Tote King, Travis, Turbonegro, Urtz, Violadores del Verso, etc.
Apart from these official events, the private initiative -mainly groups and hospitality businesses- has also organized concerts alternative of Banda Bassotti, Geronación, La Otxoa, Macarrada, Skalariak, Su ta Gar, El Reno Renardo, etc.
During festivities is organized the International Fireworks Competition Villa de Bilbao in which every night of the week has a great a pyrotechnics fireworks. Some days are contest fires and other exhibition.