From baby-jumping to goat throwing: Spain's most raucous festivals
SPAIN: Jumping over new born babies. Throwing goats off church towers. Getting chased by deadly bulls. Pelting your neighbours with tomatoes. Getting paraded around in a coffin. It's just another year in the Spanish festival calendar.
When it comes to festivals, the Spanish really don't follow the script. As that time of year comes around, having a few beers and dancing a little simply won't do. The list ranges from the bizarre and morally questionable to the downright dangerous - with appearances from airborne rats, coffins, and outrageous political mannequins. Some you'd be crazy to miss. As for others - well, it's probably best to stay at home.
The otherwise obscure town of El Puig puts itself on the map with the hygienically dubious festival of San Pedro Nolasco on the last Sunday in January, in which villagers hurl dead rats at each other. Just imagine being smacked across the face by a flying rodent. Few people are sure how the festival originated, though traditionally the festivities would also feature pinatas - some filled with sugary surprises, some with furry ones. This practice, however, was banned by animal rights activists though the throwing still continues.
Ok, so to be fair, this doesn't actually happen anymore. The tradition of throwing a goat 15 metres off the top of Manganeses de la Polvorosa's church tower was banned in 2000, after understandable efforts by animal rights campaigners. Onlookers would stand underneath with a tarpaulin sheet to try and catch the goat, with varying levels of success. The tradition reportedly began when a legendary goat, which would miraculously feed the poor with its milk, fell out of the tower but landed safely.
Valencia's Las Fallas is a true spectacle in which, during several days of festivities, hundreds of painstakingly designed ninotes - manequins - are paraded around the town before being burnt in a bonfire. These outlandish manequins are typically satirical, including cheeky parodies of everyone from cartoon characters to politicians.
This festival is a giant re-enactment of the historic battle between the Moors, who ruled Spain for some 700 years, and the Christians who fought them. The epicentre of the celebration is in the Valencia region, particularly in the town of Alcoy. Locals join groups of Moors or Christians, and spend months preparing costumes and props for their ceremonious battles - in which, needless to say, history repeats itself and the Christians win.
El Colacho is difficult to watch. Though conventionally baptism will suffice to cleanse a baby of its sin, in Castrillo de Murcia they take a rather different approach. Every year, new-born babies are lined up on mattresses while a man dressed as the devil leaps over them like hurdles. A fiercely guarded tradition amongst locals, parents line up to put their baby at the mercy of the steady-footed demon, despite the Catholic Church's protestations against the ceremony.
The festival of San Fermin is world famous, with a wide-range of carnivalesque events over the course of a week. Above all, though, it is known for the running of the bulls, in which thrill seekers attempt to outrun a pack of stampeding bulls that are let loose throughout the city. If that sounds dangerous, that's because it is - hundreds of people are injured each year for not getting out of the way on time. Nevertheless, it is a true spectacle, and if you enjoy an adrenaline rush, then there are few things that could beat this - even if you're only watching from the sidelines.
In the Galician town of Santa Mart de Ribarteme, this Christian celebration involves carrying those who have had near death experiences through the town in a coffin, before arriving at a church. It is a strange sight, as those grateful to be alive hop into something one typically wants to stay as far away from as possible.
This world-famous festival is the biggest and best food fight you will ever find. Sore eyes and stickiness aside, the irresistible notion of lathering yourself up in tomato puree and pelting the fruits - no, remember, they're not vegetables - at anyone and everyone around you brings out the child in all of us.
It might look like a scene from the apocalypse, as tar-covered groups from rival towns battle each other, but this is just another one of the jolly Spaniards' annual traditions. On September 8th, the townspeople of Baza and Guadix in Andalusia come together to celebrate the day in which a villager from Guadix found a statue of the Virgin Mary. As he took the relic back to his town, he was ambushed by villagers from Baza, and a dispute broke out commemorated to this day as the villagers pelt each other with black goo.
This five-day festival includes a number of spectacular parades and events, including the Correfoc, in which a group dressed as devils set off fireworks amidst large crowds of revellers. Sound dangerous? How about making a human tower and putting a child at the top? Indeed, the prize for the most extraordinary event has to go to Castellers, in which well-prepared groups make enormous human towers, often over ten metres in height, all with the aim of getting a child at the top. Extraordinary, and sure to get your heart pumping.