In the May/June issue of AFAR Magazine, Lisa Abend gives a first-person account of the infamous San Fermin festival in Pamplona, better known as the running of the bulls. As it turns out, a human dodging angry bovines is not the weirdest thing that Spaniards make an annual event. If you can’t make it to Basque country in the summer, perhaps one of these bizarre festivals will work better with your schedule.
El Colacho, Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos (Sunday following Corpus Christi)
Known as the baby-jumping festival, this event sees men dressed as the Devil (el Colacho) jump over (you guessed it) babies born during the previous 12 months. The infants lie four to a mattress, the beds spaced like a series of hurdles down the street. The ritual, which originated in the 1600s, is said to cleanse the babies of original sin, ensure them safe passage through life, and guard against illness and evil spirits.
The Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme, Las Nieves, Galicia (July 29)
This festival celebrates those who have had a near-death experience. Friends and family act as pallbearers—carrying loved ones who have had a brush with death through the streets in a coffin. If one cannot find anyone to hoist their casket they must carry it themselves (it is not uncommon to see solo marchers lugging a pine box). The day ends with an effigy of Santa Marta, the “saint of death.” People pray to keep future experiences of death as far away in the future as possible.
La Tomatina, Buñol, Valencia (Last Wednesday of August)
In 1945, a couple of unruly boys threw tomatoes at a parade protesting their exclusion. The result was one of Spain’s messiest festivals. The town of Buñol plays host to the world’s largest tomato fight (shown above). After more than 60 years impostor events have popped up, but none match the original. To be safe, there is no throwing bottles or hard objects, and tomatoes must be crushed before they’re tossed. Be sure to bring goggles, as acid in the eyes gets itchy. If chucking tomatoes isn’t enough of an adrenaline rush you can try your luck at climbing the palojabón—a greased, soapy pole with a ham on top of it. The event marks the start of the festival at 10 a.m. Once the ham is knocked off it is time for tomato trucks to start rolling in.
Moros y Cristianos, Alcoy, Alicante (April 21st – April 24th)
For four days every April, the city of Alcoy re-creates a moment of Spanish history when Christians and Moors did battle on the Iberian Peninsula. Various groups fundraise all year to outfit their “armies” in Broadway-caliber costumes. Brigades of Valencian peasants, Andalusian bandits, and soldiers from Marrakech, to name a few, march down the streets amid the revelry of music and cheering crowds before going off to war. The city turns into an all-out battleground filled with more than 20 different individual companies. The festival is held in a number of Spanish cities, but none outdo Alcoy in grandeur. Be prepared for the hundreds of blanks that are fired to signal the noisy start of the festivities.
Carreras de Caballos, Sanlúcar de Barrameda (2nd and 4th weekends of August)
There are conflicting stories about how this beach horse race began. One story says fish buyers raced horses on the beach to kill time while waiting for boats. Another is that people first raced donkeys and eventually upgraded to horses. Either way, the gallivanting horse spectacle attracts both the elite and the common man to the beaches north of Cadiz for a rousing time.
Photo by Graham McLellan.