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Top 5 weird Spanish festivals

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Spain has a reputation for ‘the party.’ One of the many unsubstantiated stereotypes about the Spanish? Absolutely not, they are far from lazy when it comes to partying.

Whereas the British have a culture defined by bad weather, the post-work ‘pint’ and previously restrictive 11pm kicking out time, the Spanish enjoy longer, lighter days that inform a more relaxed and less warlike attitude. European cultures have a long rich history full of events that are worth celebrating and others that probably shouldn’t be, here are 5 to start with.

Battle of the rats – Battalla de las ratas, El Puig, Battle of the rats

Banned in 2012 due to animal rights intervention, this festival is not for animal lovers or Musophobes (not fear of Muslims, rather a fear of rodents). Bam! Expect to get a dead rat to the face at any moment. This festival evolved completely by accident, as the small town of El Puig was celebrating the festival of San Pedro, a festival with a history of several hundred years. During the celebration piñatas or cucañas (as they are known locally) were filled with fruits and nuts and beaten with sticks by the locals until their delicious innards burst out onto the street for children and adults alike to enjoy. One year, around 200 years ago (that’s 40 rat years), after a particularly hot summer the rat population had swollen. The rats attracted by the sweet-smelling fruit and nuts nibbled their way inside, feasted and fell into a full-bellied slumber. The next day, they were rudely awoken by the villagers battering them with a stick. When the delicious treats fell to the floor along with a dead rat, a mixture of disgust and curiosity enraptured the crowd, one villager grabbed a rat corpse, launched it into the air, it spun hypnotically, descending in slow motion into the face of an unsuspecting villager. There was a pause, a moment of reflection, then villagers began grabbing rat corpses and launching them at each other. And so, the battle of the rats was born. Every year the ritual is repeated, despite the ban, the locals insist it is an integral part of an old festival and must be honoured.

Mad max and pagans, Joaldunak, Zubieta and Ituren

Joalduna is a traditional character from Spanish folklore, whose purpose is to rattle bells and ward off evil spirits, in preparation for the coming carnival. The origin of the carnival is not known, but it is quite clearly a bit of mad pagan fun. The costumes are very similar to ‘Cornelio Zurilla’ a character in the carnival festivities of Bielsa in the Pyrenees, who ‘gasp’ uses what is known in the 21st century as ‘black face’ to subtlely undermine millennials. Here the men dress like goat beasts and seductively shake their bells at the women until they are reprimanded for #hatecrime

The Joaldunak was traditionally designed to clear the area of evil spirits before the carnival and involved the two towns walking towards each other, dressed as goat people, meeting halfway and agreeing that they had made the area safe in doing so. However, the modern interpretation of the event has taken a slightly post-apocalyptic view. It is no secret that the countryside is littered with chainsaws, axes and sacks that have become iconic elements in many cinematic horror shows, these are used to great effect in the modern Joaldunak and any unsuspecting tourist that wanders into this festival will surely be found up a tree, surviving on bark and insects while mumbling to themselves. Not for the faint of heart.

Baby Jumping - El salto del Colacho, Castrillo de murcia

If you’ve had a baby in the last 12 months at the time of this festival, why not lay it on the ground and let a man dressed as ‘the devil’ leap over it? This festival has taken place every first Sunday after Corpus Christi since 1620. A local is bestowed with the honour of dressing as ‘El Colacho’ a version of the devil or a demon, all the babies of the last 12 months that wish (consent is given through blinking) to be blessed are laid on a mattress in a circuit around the town. El Colacho races around the town, leaping over the newborns, avoiding their soft skulls and absorbing any sin they may be holding onto. As well as protecting them against illness and accidents it also looks great on their future CV’s. Interestingly, El Colacho looks very similar to El Cipotegato who appears next in the list, perhaps due to a broader Spanish interpretation of the ‘fool’ or ‘devil.’

The original tomato fight, Cipotegato, Tarazona Aragón

Forget La Tomatina, with its Yerba mate supping, Ray Ban hipsters. Not only is that festival a mere 60 years old, but you also have to pay for the privilege of getting hit in the melon with a tomato. The beautiful and historic town of Tarazona is home to what is possibly Spain’s oldest continuing festival. Records in the town’s church make reference to the festival up to 600 years ago, but it is unknown how long before that it had already existed.

Genuine history! The story goes that the local Lord would pardon one prisoner every year before the beginning of carnival season, as a jolly pre-fest gesture. However, this act of mercy was not always well received by the locals, some of which may have either been the victims of the pardoned criminal or related to one of his victims. The rules of the pardon were simple, make it from the prison to the town border and you’re free to go! And so was born the Medieval Hunger Games. The locals, who had neither television nor Instagram would clamber around the prison for a little entertainment. Tomatoes were in short supply so rocks made a plentiful substitute. If the prisoner had any friends or family, they would crowd around him, sheltering his exit, although some would not make it.

The tradition was later parodied, with a nominated ‘fool’ the ‘Cipotegato’ making a route through the town as the locals pelt him with tomatoes. Before and after the fool arrives, the gathered locals unleash the frustrations of modern life as they blot out the sun with Solanum Lycopersicum and drench each other with wine. The survivors parade through the streets behind a marching band, yelling ‘agua!’ as the windows along the small alleyways open and the crowd is dowsed in water. Then follows a tomato and wine-drenched party of biblical proportions. Read more of Bulldogz experience here

Near death festival, Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme

In the small town of Nieves, Galicia on the 29th July you can witness a procession of open coffins containing live people proceeding towards the church. Family and friends of ‘near deathers’ (people who have had a near death experience) carry the coffins of their beloved in a procession headed by an effigy of Santa Marta, the sister of Lazarus who was brought back from the dead. The procession enters the church where a special mass takes place, the near deathers give thanks to the Saint of Death, reflect upon their fortune and soak up the sombre and melancholy atmosphere with a bit of partying. The inevitable happens, the ceremony is ceremoniously abandoned and the wine begins to flow as those gathered start to celebrate life and continued living.

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