Weird Yet Wonderful: Spain’s Strangest Festivals

| August 23, 2011 | 6 Comments
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The Spanish definitely know how to throw a good party and an unusual one at that. The Iberian country hosts some of the most unique fiestas in the world, with celebrations that include everything from burning huge papier mache effigies at the Las Fallas, the festival of fire, to turning up to Sunday mass in a coffin. But there is a means to this madness – tradition. Often there’s hundreds of years’ worth of history behind each festival, and new ones are being created all the time. From old to new, here are three of the strangest:

tomatina

La Tomatina, Bunol: Last Sunday of August

The town of Bunol, which is located in-land from the Costa Blanca region is home to the famous La Tomatina festival. This festival started in 1944, during a gigantes y cabazudos (giants and bigheads) procession, when two young men involved in the event starting to brawl. The men grabbed tomatoes from a nearby vegetable cart to use in place of weapons and La Tomatina was born. The event now attracts up to 30,000 people from around the world, joined by up to 9,000 locals. The night before sees the tomatoes put to use in a more conventional way, with a paella cooking competition. The next morning, carnage ensues when 150,000 tomatoes are delivered to the Plaza del Pueblo only to be turned to puree in less than an hour. After a long day of food fights, you’ll find there are plenty of Costa Blanca hotels to choose from, but the spa facilities at the Barcelo Valencia Premium Hotel will be much appreciated the next day, when you’re still trying to scrub the smell of tomatoes from your skin.

El Colacho, Castrillo de Murcia: June

It goes without saying that mothers of new-born babies want to make sure that their child is safe. Baby-proofing your house is one thing, but how do you protect your little one from evil spirits? Well, in June the Spanish take their babies to El Colacho festival in Castillo de Murcia, to have grown-men dressed as devils leap over them. This ritual has taken place in the city since 1620 and it is believed that the incarnate devils take all the evil from the child as they jump, cleansing the child as they do so. You’ll probably find yourself watching the event with one eye closed! These celebrations are part of the town’s Corpus Christi celebrations and they take place for a few days. While you’re there watch out for Santisimo Sacramento de Minerva – the event organisers – who chase and terrorise anybody and everybody in the town at random intervals.

Las Fallas,Valencia: March 1st-19th

There are a number of theories about the origins of the Fallas Festival, but the most common is that when spring days become longer, artisans put out pieces of wood and lamps then set them on fire to celebrate the Spring Equinox. The rubbish was placed outside and decorated with rags and a hat to give it human form, known as the ninot or Falla.
Today Las Fallas is celebrated with a number of firework displays and explosions. The largest and most exciting event is the Ofrenda de Flores de la Virgen de los Desamparados, which takes place on the 17th and 18th of March. At 4pm until nightfall there is a spectacular parade in which members of the Fallas don intricately decorated costumes and carry bunches of flowers to give to their Patron Saint. The event concludes on the 19th is a dramatic bonfire, in which all the ninots par set ablaze.

fallas valencia

Fiesta de Santa Marta, Pontevedra: July 29th

There are lots of ways that you could travel to Sunday mass – driving or cycling being perhaps the most conventional. However, if you’ve ever had a near-death experience then the custom in the town of Las Nieves in Pontevedra, Galicia is that on July 29th you travel to mass in a coffin. If someone is lacking in friends and family to act as pall-bearers then they must shoulder their own coffin. The procession starts at the local cemetery and then heads onto the Church Marta de Ribarteme, where offerings are bestowed upon the saint for making sure that the situation remains near-death only.
To continue with the religious experience, look at hotels in nearby Santiago de Compostela; the city’s stunning cathedral is where the remains of the apostle James were brought for burial.

[Photo credits@Flickr: Flydime, STVCR]

What is the strangest festival you have heard of or seen in the world? Share your knowledge with us in the comments section below and this post too if you liked it!

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6 Responses to “Weird Yet Wonderful: Spain’s Strangest Festivals”

  1. La Tomatina looks like a lot of fun! Have you heard of Nowhere? I think it is the equivalent of Burning Man but in Northeastern Spain. I’d like to go to that event one day… I’m sure Spaniards know how to celebrate!

  2. La Tomatina indeed looks fun! I’ve seen them on TV and it’s one fun tomato carnage. :)

  3. That tomato festival looks like so much fun!! A big mess, but fun all the same. Have you been to these yourself?

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