About a year go we quit our jobs in Australia and relocated to Spain tasked with documenting the country’s weirdest and wildest traditional and cultural parties. We were familiar with the fiestas most people have heard of
as well as passed along knowledge and rumours of stranger festivals that weren’t on the tourist trail.
Our research only informed us so much; many of the festivals we intended to film weren’t documented yet, and online much of the information was incomplete, outdated, or non-existent. With little knowledge of what to expect we turned up to the first fiesta on our thrown-together schedule with little more than the clothes on our back and our life savings’ worth of film gear.
Since then 50 Fiestas has filmed about 20 of the craziest, most ridiculous, dangerous celebrations Spain has to offer. These are some of the highlights from the project so far.
#1. Strangest Spain Street Parties – El Colacho aka The Baby Jumping
What: A week long game of whip chase, followed by a round of baby jumping
Where: Castrillo de Murcia, about an hour from Burgos
When: The Sunday after the feast of Corpus Christi
This was the first party we filmed and the perfect baptism for the outright weirdness that we could expect from the project. The party was in a tiny medieval village outside of Burgos, on Spain’s northern plateau, a speck of stone buildings cowering under an oversize church, surrounding a small plaza, devoted to the yearly worship of a yellow-tracksuited devil-man known as El Colacho.
See Also: Quiz: Which Festival is Right for You?
Apart from chasing the villagers around and flogging them with horsehair whips, El Colacho spends one Sunday in late May/early June jumping over terrified infants. The infants are laid on blankets in the street and dressed in their fanciest best and then they are jumped over, in the belief that El Colacho’s trainers will release them from original sin, just as the priest’s holy water would.
#2. Strangest Spain Street Parties – La Batalla de Vino aka San Vino aka The Wine Fight
What: A wine-soaked battle overlooking some of the world’s great red-wine vineyards
Where: Haro, La Rioja
When: June 28th
This one continues the tradition of Spaniards celebrating things by throwing stuff, but unlike the tomatoes we know about, San Vino’s participants make use of the red wine that the La Rioja region of Spain is internationally renowned for. The celebration began as a way to mark the frontier between two feuding villages, Haro and Miranda de Ebro, sometime in the 13th century.
Haro had to officially mark the property line between them and the people of Miranda de Ebro ever year on St. Peter’s Day (as well as the first Sunday of September) or else Haro would have to amalgamate with their neighbours. Eventually the placement of flags simply devolved (or evolved) into a battle of wine.
Nowadays this is one of the greatest fiestas a traveller can attend, the perfect combination of culture and strangeness, excitement and fun. The battle takes place on a hillside overlooking the village and the vineyards that surround it, and it is still overwhelmingly a local majority affair. Put this one on the bucket list NOW.
#3. Strangest Spain Street Parties – Las Fallas aka The Burning
What: Celebrate the passing of winter by building and burning beautiful statues
When: March 19th
OK, here’s a sterling plan. Let’s build giant, elaborate, beautiful, impressive structures from the most flammable materials we can find, put them in the city centre, and then set fire to dozens of them, all at once.
Las Fallas, Valencia’s biggest annual celebration, is a continuation of the pagan ritual intended to chase away the winter, that was co-opted by the Catholic Church as well as the local carpenters, hence the impressiveness of the statues that are, all for one, destined for the ash pile.
We can’t overemphasize just how potentially catastrophic these 20-metre bonfires in the middle of Spain’s third-largest city are, nor how spectacular and exciting the event is. This is one for our inner and hopefully repressed, pyromaniac.
#4. Strangest Spain Street Parties – La Fiesta de Santa Maria de Ribertarme aka The Coffin Carriers
What: A religious fiesta that sees people who have recently been through a near-death experience carried around town in a coffin
Where: The church of Santa Marta de Ribarteme, near As Neves, Pontavedra, Galicia
When: June 29th
In the mountains of Galicia, Spain’s westernmost province, life and its traditions have developed at a different pace to the rest of the country. For starters, the region boasts a Celtic heritage, and a pagan mythology similar to that of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall. In this part of Spain you’re more likely to hear bagpipes than flamenco guitars.
Due to this pervasive Celtic influence, the Catholic church went all out in converting Spain’s northwest, even going so far as announcing that Saint James, Jesus’ friend from Jerusalem, was buried in Santiago de Compostela — despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. This audacious claim has led to a multi-million dollar pilgrim industry, with hundreds of thousands of devoted walkers filling the trails that lead towards Santiago each and every year.
Further south from Santiago, in the tiny village of Riberterme, the locals perform a kind of pilgrimage of their own. Basically, anybody who has had a near-death experience in the previous year is paraded around the hamlet in an open coffin while hoisted upon their friends’ shoulders.
It seems like the idea is to convince the nearly dead that being in a coffin for the rest of eternity would probably suck, so maybe stave off the whole dying thing for a little longer.