We all know that the Spanish love to enjoy themselves and the most extravagant display of this desire to have fun is embodied in their popular annual festivals, or «ferias» as known in Spanish, that take place in nearly all of the villages and towns throughout Spain.
Some of these carnivals have deep historical and religious roots and others are more modern and are just about having fun. Yet one thing is for sure, the festivals that I am about to talk about are completely bizarre and definitely not for the faint-hearted. I’m not just talking about the Semana Santa Feria in Seville for example where the most you will see is colourful flamenco dresses and lots of drunk people dancing in private tents. I’m talking about the really weird festivals that take place in Spain that would give a health and safely inspector a heart attack! So if it’s on your bucket list to do something wild and out of control, I’ve created a calendar of events so you can spend most of the year being downright deranged (or at least watching others act that way!)
JANUARY – San Vicente de Martir – this controversial event takes place on the last Sunday of every January in the town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa, Zamora. The pious villagers honour their patron, St. Vincent, by choosing probably the most unlucky goat in the whole of Spain. The poor unfortunate beast is then carried in a procession down the meandering streets where it is transported up the bell tower of the local church and subsequently thrown out of a window some 50ft high to its impending doom. The flying goat is hopefully caught by villagers holding tarpaulins directly below. The hapless animal that does not survive this dreadful ordeal is then discarded and the partying continues. However, should the goat survive (which is rare) it is then paraded through the streets on the shoulders of the partygoers marking the beginning of this bizarre festival and will become a local legend for years to come. Animal rights activists have on many occasions attempted to ban this cruel carnival. However, to date the villagers show no sign of relenting and giving up this strange ancient tradition.
FEBRUARY – El Entroido – this festival in the town of Laza is probably one of the weirdest and is a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of spring. This strange party involves people throwing large antballs at each other. Yes, you read this correctly… they actually gather large balls of mud swarming with live ants and hurl them randomly at any unfortunate person that happens to be their target! However, it is very interesting to watch (perhaps from a balcony out of the way of manure-smelling missiles!) as the colourful and very ornate «Peliqueiros» run through the streets holding flaming torches. Later on, all of the festival-goers gather together where they dance, throw even more dirt at each other, start whipping people and stuff their faces with the barbecued heads of goats and pigs. At the end of the Entroido they hold a funeral for the sardines in which a giant replica sardine is set alight and villagers either dress in black to signify they are mourning the sardine or white to imitate sardine ghosts. During the hustle and bustle, a «morena» then enters the stage, which is a person dressed as a brown cow complete with a wooden cow’s mask. The cow then proceeds to butt its head into the crowds and use its horns to lift up womens’ skirts! Udder madness!
MARCH – Las Fallas – The Fire Festival in Valencia takes place between 15th – 20th March and is a pyromaniac’s dream come true. This unusual, and let’s face it, perilous event consists of raging fires, eruptions of flames, fireworks, lively music, bonfires and of course lots of drinking and eating. Giant puppets called ninots are carefully crafted leading up to this five-day spectacular which are then dotted around the city centre. During the day there are many exploding firecrackers being set off throughout the city and at 2pm there is an impressive firework display called La Mascleta. The culmination of this festival is on 19th March at exactly midnight when all the street lights are turned off and all but one of these magnificent paper mache sculptures are set alight. The chosen ninot that is not consumed by the fire is then placed in the Fallas Museum in Valencia.
MAY – La Batalla de la Rata Muerta – The Dead Rat Battle – mmmm, sounds lovely. I think I’ll book some flights at go there on 6th May! Now I’m getting a theme here… the Spanish just love to throw things at each other whether it’s fire or ants – but no, they have to go one step further in the town of El Puig in Valencia and throw dead rats!!! Yuk. In the annual Fiesta de San Pedro Nolasco, instead of a pinata they use a similar paper mache ornament called a «cucana». However, unlike a pinata which contains sweeties, half of the cucanas don’t contain anything of the sugar variety but instead are harbouring a dead rat. If you’re fortunate enough to have a deceased rodent in your cucana (yes, you’re deemed a winner) you get to use this as a projectile to throw at other partygoers and a fun for all begins. The Spanish really are quite mad.
JUNE – El Colacho – this traditional holiday dating back to 1620 is more commonly known as the «Baby Jumping Festival» and takes place in the first week of June in the village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos. Celebrating the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, the week-long festivities culminate on the Sunday when the baby jumping takes place during the village procession. No, I’m not talking about babies themselves jumping about on tiny trampolines. The «Salto del Colacho» (Devil’s jump) actually involves men dressed as the Devil jumping over mattresses. The unusual aspect of this act is that lying on the mattresses beneath the leaping satans are babies who were born in the previous 12 months. Now you’re probably asking yourselves, «why on earth do they do this?» Well, as legend has it this act is said to cleanse the new souls of original sin and ensure their safe passage through life, guarding them against evil spirits. I think I prefer the traditional baptismal ceremony of pouring holy water over a baby’s head. Let’s face it, it is a much safer option!
JUNE – La Batalla del Vino – This crazy wine-throwing festival takes place a town called Haro, in the wine-growing region of Rioja. It is held on 29th June on the patron saint day of San Pedro. The procession begins at 7am with hundreds of people standing in the streets dressed in white shirts and red scarves, all carrying containers filled with red wine. The town’s Mayor leads the procession on horseback and after a mass is celebrated there is a real free-for-all fun wine battle. You really need to be wearing goggles if you’re in the heart of this drunken festival as everybody begins to throw wine everywhere! At noon, the partygoers return to the Plaza de la Paz followed by bullfights in the town’s bullring. The Haro wine festival is pure unadulterated pandemonium and lots of fun for those who don’t mind resembling a sticky blueberry after the celebrations are over! If you miss this madness, then a similar chaotic festival takes place in a town called Pobla del Duc in Valencia on the last Friday in August. La Raima involves folk throwing lots of grapes at each other and getting very messy indeed.
JULY – La Rapa das Bestas – this ludicrous festival takes place on the first weekend in July in a town called Sabucedo, Galicia. The Shearing of the Beasts involves a group of very brave (or probably mad!) men attempting to wrestle and tame a large group of wild horses that are brought down from the mountains. The three-day weekend celebrations begin when the herders set off in the early hours into the mountains to collect some 600 horses in total. It culminates in the rounding up of the wild horses in a «curro» (an ancient stone amphitheatre) where men attempt to mount each horse and clip its mane and tail. Young horses are also caught and branded with a hot iron – poor things! This peculiar festival dates back from the beginning of the 18th Century and as you can imagine it is an extremely dangerous event. Only experienced villages are allowed to take part in the curro but visitors can go up into the mountains to gather the beasts. Now you have to bear in mind that these horses are wild in nature anyway and the shock of being brought down from the mountains and being herded into a confined space makes them even more ferocious! Each day ends with a lot of partying and at the end of the third curro on the Sunday all the horses are herded up and set free again in the mountains.
JULY – Bous a la Mar – The «Bulls to the Sea» festival takes place on the first Saturday in July in the town of Denia, Alicante and really is for the «non compos mentis». The feria lasts a full week but the highlight is watching bulls chase people down the main street where they eventually arrive at a pier. The bulls are taunted so much that they become extremely aggravated and in a raging fury they jump into the sea after those mad enough to join in this strange festival. After a while in the sea being goaded even more by the brave participants, the bulls are eventually rounded up and towed back to shore. As usual, a massive street party follows and most people don’t remember what happens next. Now, if this is too much for you then perhaps the next festival is a better one to watch (definitely not participate in though) as it doesn’t involve swimming with raging bulls!
JULY – La Feria de San Fermin – The Crazy Bull Running Festival is well-known and very popular with tourists from all over the world. San Fermin takes place in Pamplona, Navarra, between 7th-14th July when every morning at 8am a firecracker signals the beginning of the bull run. Hundreds of insane people run down the narrow streets of the old town with fearsome bulls chasing after them. This crazy run ends in the town’s bullring where young cows with wrapped horns are released and the insane participants are then thrown about a little by these beasts. The unfortunate bulls are later killed in the bullring when the bullfighting starts in the afternoon. During this week there are many other events that take place, such as the giants and big heads parade and «el struendo» where people gather at midday at the Town Hall to make as much noise as possible for several hours. However, the bull run is the main event that puts Pamplona at the top of the festival charts.
JULY – La Fiesta de Santa Maria de Ribarteme – now you’ve heard about the festival paying tribute to the dead in Mexico – el Dia de los Muertos? Well believe it or not, in Spain they actually have a celebration in honour of those who have nearly died. The Near Death Festival takes place on 29th July in a town called Las Nieves, in Galicia. The lucky ones who nearly managed to cheat death the previous year are paraded through the streets in coffins – yep, you know just to remind them of what their fate could have been like! The streets are packed with thousands of people whilst the relatives of the nearly dead ones carry each respective coffin through the procession. A special mass begins in the local church and once it is over the coffins are then carried up the hill to the town cemetery where they are paraded a bit more before being brought back to the church. The almost dead rise out of their coffins and begin to tell people about their extraordinary near-death experiences. The celebrations begin and everyone parties the night away giving thanks for the fact that they are all still alive. Oh I love the Spanish – they can think of any excuse to have a party!
AUGUST – La Tomatina – the final festival on my list is another popular event that is known throughout the world. The Tomato-Throwing Festival takes place in the town of Bunol near Valencia on the last Wednesday in August. The Tomatina begins in the Plaza del Pueblo with a jaman being placed on top of a large greasy wooden post. The goal is for someone to climb it and knock the jaman off whilst spectators are entertained with music and dancing. Oh, and they’re also belted with tonnes of water from hoses – I suppose they’re going to get wet sooner or later so that’s no problem! La Tomatina begins as soon as the jaman is knocked off the pole and a loud shot is heard. This carnival is essentially a large tomato fight where villagers gather in the streets (not in their best clothing like during most other festivals!) and large trucks come along filled with squashy tomatoes. The lucky people in the truck then get to throw about 150,000 crushed tomatoes at anybody and everybody. After exactly an hour, the fight ends with the sounding of a second shot and the village (and villagers) are then hosed down before another kind of partying that doesn’t involve tomatoes begins.
Well, as you can see from these festivals, the Spanish are truly mad and seem to have an affinity with hurling things at each other, getting very messy, making fools of themselves, dancing and drinking lots and lots. It’s true that there is a large divide between what some of us view as barbaric, and others simply view as culturally acceptable because it’s what they’ve been brought up with and they know no different. However, what stands out from this article is that the Spanish have an instinctive desire to socialise and have fun and think of any reason to have one big massive party!
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