Saturday, April 28, 2012

Let's party!

Bottle-kicking is an old Leicestershire custom that takes place each Easter Monday. Effectively it is a pitched battle fought between the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne. On New Years Eve the Guisers of Allendale, Northumberland, carry flaming tar barrels on their heads to light a midnight bonfire. We Britons love a good tradition. The Spanish are up for a bit of a lark too.

In Coria, Extremadura for the San Juan festival they didn't think much of the Alicantino idea of bonfires and fireworks to celebrate the longest day of the year. Their idea of fun was to pick a lad to defend himself with a couple of daggers against all the other young men of the village. One year the lucky boy happened to be from a rich family. His mum wasn't keen on him being maimed or killed so she greased enough palms for the authorities to substitute a bull for her son. She set a trend. Nowadays happy mums look on as the villagers shoot small darts from blowpipes into a bull running through the streets. Favourite targets are eyes, nostrils and testicles. Perhaps there's a bit of a testicles thing in Coria because once the bull is exhausted and collapses its balls are cut off.

In Manganeses de la Polvorosa in Zamora it's goats. They used to throw a live goat from the church tower which the lads caught in a sort of blanket - fire fighter style. Afterward the goat went for a pleasant stroll amongst the milling crowds. The story goes that some outsiders, who had the strange idea that the goats didn't enjoy their short flight, made a bit of a fuss about the event on national telly. Nowadays the villagers limit themselves to flinging a cardboard goat from the tower. A live goat takes over to do the walkabout.

In Carpio del Tajo in Toledo they hang a goose from a rope, washing line style, in the middle of the town square. Horse riders charge past and try to wrench off the bird's head with their bare hands. The geese are dead. Not so the cockerels in Guarrate in Zamora. This time, after first reading a poem the young men of the village have to slit the throat of the birds with swords as they ride past on horseback.

There are plenty more. Bulls turn up a lot. In Tordesillas they hack one to death with lances. In Medinaceli in Soria, the encierro, the ever so common running of bulls through narrow streets, is enlivened by doing it at night with burning torches fastened to the bull's horns presumably so the bull can see where it's going. There are similar fiestas in Valencia. Another popular type of event, with the most infamous being in Benavente, involves tying a strong rope to the bull's horns and then dragging it this way and that. Castilla y Leon, la Rioja, Navarra, Andalucia and Valencia all have variations on this theme.

It's not just animals. In Valverde de la Vera on Easter Thursday human penitents wearing white veils and skirts are roped up to a plough shaft whilst in the Galician village of As Neves people who don't feel too well are carried around in coffins each July.

Tradition is a wonderful thing.

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