Spain is a country famous for its varied and spectacular festivals. The Iberian nation holds special events throughout year to celebrate its religious and cultural traditions. Within this mosaic of festivals, some of the most bizarre celebrations in the world take place. Many of the events involve animals, while others rely on human ingenuity. The common goal is usually to have lots of fun but some of the festivals can be controversial.
The town of Buñol, in the Valencia region, has become internationally famous for this tomato based festival. Every year since 1945 the townspeople, and now tourists from across the world, have come together on the last Wednesday in August to throw ripe tomatoes in all directions. The sole purpose is to smear and cover other participants with this juicy fruit. The origins of the Tomatina festival are uncertain, but one theory suggests it began when two groups of youths attempted to settle a dispute by hurling tomatoes at each other.
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Toro de la Vega
One of the most controversial festivals is the Toro de la Vega. On the second Tuesday of every November, the residents of Tordesillas, in the Castile and León region, let a bull loose onto the town’s streets. Once it has been released, dozens of horsemen armed with spears drive the bull out to a meadow before killing the animal. Organisers and residents defend the practice claiming it is an important ancient tradition, but critics call the event cruel and violent.
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Lunes de aguas
The Lunes de Aguas celebration, held in the city of Salamanca on the first Monday after every Easter, is a much more peaceful festival. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the River Tormes to drink wine and eat food. Pride of place goes to the “hornazo,” an oversized pie filled with different sausages and pork. The origins of the festival are said to lie in the 16th Century banishment of the city’s prostitutes to the other side of the river during the period of lent. Once the 40-day period was over some of the city’s men folk would wait on the riverbanks for their return.
Cabra del campanario
The tradition of throwing a live goat from a church belfry in order to celebrate the festival of San Vicente Martir continued into the 21st Century in the town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa, in Castile and Leon. However, the controversial practice was finally banned in 2002 following years of negative media coverage. The live goat has now been replaced by a cardboard version.
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El marrano de San Antón
Residents of La Alberca, in the province of Salamanca, let a pig loose on the town’s streets every 13 June as part of the build up to the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. The pig is left to roam until 17 January, the day of the feast, and the residents are responsible for feeding it. The pig is then caught and auctioned, with the money being donated to charity. Formerly, the pig was given to the town’s poorest family to be used as food.
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The people of Tarazon, in the province of Zaragoza, take to the streets armed with tomatoes for a strange annual festival known as the Cipotegato. A raffle is held to select the local youth who will play the mythical character of the Cipotegato. On the main day of the festival, which is held between 27 August and 1 September, the Cipotegato is dressed in a hooded harlequin costume and their goal is to cross the main square and climb a monument while being pelted with hundreds of tomatoes. It is said the tradition began in the 18th Century when prisoners were pardoned if they could reach safety while being pelted with stones.
One of the most important and colourful festivals in Spain is Las Fallas. The celebration, which is held annually in Valencia, involves impressive fireworks and hundreds of participants. Traditionally, the “falla” is a sculpture made from cardboard and stone, but more recently modern materials such as polystyrene have been use. The “fallas” are usually based on topical satirical themes related to politics or sport. The festival is held in honour of Saint Joseph from 15 to 19 March, with the most important day being that on which the “fallas” are set alight. The story behind the construction and burning of these sculptures, some of which measure more than 20 metres high, is not entirely clear. However, one theory suggests local carpenters burned wood structures in “purifying fire” to honour their patron saint.
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Bous a la mer
The Bous a la Mer festival is another controversial Spanish tradition. The event, in which bulls are set free into a pen next to the sea, takes place in Denia, Alicante, on the second week of July. Locals attempt to dodge the bull, while at the same time tempting it to jump off the harbour side and into the sea. Although the bulls are rescued and brought back to land immediately, the festival is widely criticised by animal rights groups.
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The Day of the Geese, also known as Antzar Eguna, is celebrated every 5 September in Lequeitio in the Basque region. The event is a competition in which participants attempt to break the neck of a dead goose suspended from an elasticated rope in the middle of a river. The contestants grab onto the goose after passing by on a boat. The winner is the person who breaks the neck and holds on the longest while being flung into the river by the elasticity of the rope. The tradition of using live geese was stopped after complaints from animal rights groups.
This tradition, which involves setting alight two flammable balls attached to a bull’s horns, is celebrated in parts of Catalonia, Aragon and the Valencian community. A bull is tied to a pole in the centre of town before the fireballs are lit. The rope is then cut and participants attempt to dodge the charging bull. The controversial tradition, which takes place on different dates according to the area, has been attacked for it cruelty and as a result it has been banned in some towns.
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