"We had a big party for the administration and the diplomatic corps," said Spanish Ambassador Jose Llado. "Then we had a dinner for the South and Central American ambassadors.But today is for the families."

Darting two fingers out to a tray, he speared a slice of beef. "I have five children. They are all here," he said, looking around at the dense crowd in the embassy's courtyard. "Somewhere. And the dog."

The ambassador was throwing a party yesterday for all the Spanish in the Washington area to celebrate Spanish national day, Oct. 12, the day Columbus landed in the Americas, 487 years ago.

It is the biggest holiday party of the year for the Spanish nationals in the area, and some 300 people showed up at the embassy to drink sangria from a fountain and to eat meat and rice and olive-studded gelatin spread on a 20-foot table in the ballroom.

The youngest in the crowd was a four-month-old, the oldest was a grandmother well past 70, who wore a yellow flower at the back of her white hair and was not averse to dancing, cane in hand, to the impromptu spanish songs of a young man in a three-piece suit.

In another of the huge rooms in the embassy, children had shed their formal, outer layers of clothes and leaned in shirtsleeves into the fountain to spray water at one another with spoons borrowed from the banquet table.

A man who works for the World Bank said it was his 11th year at the party. "Until three years ago, you know, this party, the Fiesta de la Raza, was held on July 18. Franco ordered that because it was the anniversary of the victory of Franco's rebellion. Now it has been changed back; and this is much better. It is nonpolitical, just for a good time."

The ambassador showed people through the embassy, past the 300 and 400-year-old paintings and tapestries from The Prado museum in Spain, past a photograph of the Pope in Washington, which also has the ambassador's wife peeking from behind a pillar. Each room seemed to have its own crowd.

In one, college students studying in America stood in a serious-looking circle, while younger teen-agers were slumped down in the sofas, tickling each other's noses with flowers. In the next room, older folk stood at the side, telling stories. Next to them was a tiny girl in a white flamenco dress with red trim, red beads and a redflower in her hair being photographed by her father.

Those leaving the party passed, on the front veranda, more children -- boys with their blazers off and their starched collars loosened, swinging madly on low magnolia branches in the sunny afternoon.

"Some moments and some parts of the embassy," said a young embassy translator, "make me feel as if I could be in Spain."