Rural Sant Antoni celebrations on Mallorca

The first time we were invited to join some mallorquín neighbours at their farm for a Sant Antoni celebration, I spent some time planning what we should take as a contribution to the communal supper. I settled on a dessert – a classic tarte tatin – and was both surprised and delighted when it turned out to look like the best one I’d ever baked.

When we arrived at the farm that chilly January evening in our early time of living on rural Mallorca, I added our contribution to the long table, which was covered with platters brought by other guests. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for originality when I noticed that my tarte tatin was the only dessert that wasn’t a Mallorcan ensaïmada.

Get with the traditions!

Later that evening, when most platters were left with only ensaïmada crumbs, and my tarte tatin was barely touched (except by The Boss), it dawned on me that it was the tradition to end a celebratory meal with ensaïmada.

We were there again this year, but without a tarte tatin. As usual, the feasting was done at a row of long plastic white tables and chairs set up in the farm’s spacious garage/storage room, decorated with handwritten Sant Antoni-related messages. We shared this space with a couple of cars, and a large flat-screen TV that had been brought out so that guests – who also included a couple of Germans, another English couple, an Israeli and his South African wife, and a dozen or so Mallorcans – could keep an eye on the IB3 TV coverage of Sant Antoni events in Manacor. I don’t think anyone really paid the broadcast any attention: we were having too much fun of our own!

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Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Pass the ximbomba

Pass the ximbomba

This is how it's done

This is how it’s done

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

After a very traditional Sant Antoni feast, a couple of bottles of home-made hierbas (the local herb liqueur) was passed around the table, and it was time for a sing-song and the playing of the ximbomba – an essential musical instrument for Sant Antoni celebrations, which looks a bit like a drum with a stick through the top of it. The playing method is rather suggestive – using a wetted hand to rub up and down the cane stuck into the drum part – and the resulting sound is the sort of farty noise that would have small English children giggling with delight. Several guests had a turn with the ximbomba – which isn’t as easy to play as its simple appearance may suggest. Every effort produced gales of laughter around the table – and prompted another toast with hierbas to the saint whose life we were celebrating. There would be sore heads in the morning . . .

Visca Sant Antoni! Long life Sant Antoni!

The fiestas continue in January on Mallorca

I remember January in the UK as a rather dull month, after the Christmas and New Year festivities. It’s all a bit different, since we came to live in rural Mallorca . . .

For a start, the Spanish celebrate the arrival of The Three Kings – who bring gifts to children on the night of January 5th (the 6th – the Christian festival of Epiphany – is a public holiday here).

By the time the gift wrapping is in the local paper recycling bin the Mallorcans are already gearing up for the Sant Antoni Abad fiestas, celebrated on January 16th and 17th (the Saint’s day).

No cold feet for Antoni

Antoni was not a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian monk who lived in the desert. The Devil – disguised as a woman – visited him there and tried to tempt him with ‘her’ charms. Antoni’s way of resisting temptation? He walked across some burning embers to suppress his lustful thoughts. That would do it . . .

A few centuries ago, when rye crops in the agricultural area around Sa Pobla were decimated by a poisonous fungus, the islanders remembered Sant Antoni and the power of fire to overcome evil spirits. Believing that these spirits were to blame for the loss of their crops, they lit bonfires to ward them off.

The bonfires continue in the 21st century, as part of the fiestas to celebrate the Saint’s day (January 17th). These are fiestas for the towns and villages with a rural heritage, and our nearest town, Manacor, is one of several places on Mallorca that really make the most of this fiesta.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

Manacor goes to town

The main event is on the evening of the 16th, when bonfires are lit and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals indulge in torrades, cooking botifarrons and other types of sausage over fires, and local brews such as hierbas – the famous Mallorcan herb liqueur. There’s music, traditional Mallorcan dancing (ball de bot), and it’s all very jolly. Many Mallorcans have told us that this is their favourite fiesta of the year.

Manacor council has published a 24-page brochure (in mallorquín) for the Sant Antoni 2015 festivities, also available online at http://www.manacor.org. It’s a lavish affair, detailing the programme of Sant Antoni-related events (which started on January 9th and end on 17th). Oh, and for those who like a sing-song, the words of the traditional Sant Antoni songs are helpfully included.

There’s a competitive element to the fiesta too, with monetary prizes for the best bonfires, floats, costumes, and more.

The programme shows the route of the procession of floats, bands, dignatories, and demonis (devils) on Friday 16th, starting at 7pm. At 8pm the first bonfire is traditionally lit outside the Rectory in the town centre – and after that all the other bonfires can be lit. At 10.30pm, there’s dancing in the Plaça de Ramon Llull. It’s a long night, but with an early start next morning for many . . .

It’s not over until it’s over

 

Taking his dog to be blessed

Taking his dog to be blessed

Pets on parade

Pets on parade

On January 17th – the feast of Sant Antoni Abad (the patron saint of animals) – locals bring their pets and animals to be blessed by the local priest. It’s a colourful and often cute procession of humans and animals, walking, riding on horseback, or on floats. In Manacor, the procession assembles at 9.30am, for the 10.30am parade. (Times, and even the day, may vary in different towns and villages). After the blessings, it’s time to go home and recover: January 17th is a public holiday in Manacor.

Apart from the public events, there are many Sant Antoni celebrations in small rural communities and we are spending at least part of the evening of the 16th at a farm in our valley, invited by our Mallorcan neighbours to join in their fun.

As they say in these parts, molts d’anys.

 

These devils don’t wear Prada

Christmas, New Year, and The Three Kings festivities are now over but, here in Mallorca, we don’t let something like January get in the way of enjoying ourselves. This week sees more fiestas on the island and, as the mercury drops in thermometers, we’re pleased they involve bonfires.

Tomorrow is the eve of the feast of Sant Antoni Abat. Funnily enough, he wasn’t a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian Christian monk who lived in the desert. Visited by the Devil, in the guise of a woman, he walked across the burning embers of a fire to take his mind off the immediate and obvious temptation parading in front of him. Well, that would certainly have done the trick.

Pass the matches

But back to Mallorca: in the 10th and 11th centuries rye crops on the island were blighted by a poisonous fungus, which caused a debilitating itching disease among the population. The Mallorcans, convinced this was the work of the Devil, followed Sant Antoni’s example and lit bonfires to ward away the evil.

And to this day, on the eve of Sant Antoni’s day, bonfires are lit across the island and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals, dressed scarily as dimonis, dance around; there’s traditional music and, this being a Mallorcan celebration, food and drink. Sausages and other meats are cooked over open fires outdoors, and a glass (or two) of warming hierbas (the local herb liqueur) helps fend off the evening chill.

Down on the farm . . .

Some years ago our neighbours Lorenzo and Bárbara had their own Sant Antoni celebrations on the farm and, along with other neighbours in the valley, we were invited along to join them. We offered to take some food and drink and it was suggested that we might like to take a dessert and perhaps a bottle of something. I decided to make a tarte tatin which, to my surprise (considering the unreliable nature of our Smeg oven), ended up looking (almost) like something Raymond Blanc would have produced in the kitchens of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, back in Oxfordshire.

Lorenzo and Bárbara’s Sant Antoni fiesta was great fun. He lit the most enormous bonfire, and nearby we cooked delicious cuts of lamb and pork from his own farm over the burning embers of an improvised BBQ. We ate in their large garage/workshop/store, sitting on the ubiquitous (at Mallorcan fiestas, at least) white plastic chairs, either side of long trestle tables.

A few guests had brought along the traditional instrument that accompanies the singing of songs about Sant Antoni.  We could only listen – not understanding the Mallorcan words of the song – but were told that the songs were verde. This being the castellano word for ‘green’, I thought it was interesting that these songs should be about ecology – and a little strange that there was so much raucous laughter accompanying the verses.

Party-on and keep warm in January in Mallorca

Party-on and keep warm in January in Mallorca

It was only when a friend explained that verde is the equivalent of what we’d call ‘blue’ in English, that everything fell into place. More laughter followed, as we explained our misunderstanding.

The deserted dessert

After the singing, it was time for dessert. All the contributions had been placed on a large trestle table. Every one – except ours – was an ensaïmada, the coiled sweet yeasty pastry that’s emblematic of Mallorca. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about many Mallorcans in our part of the island is that, when it comes to food, they favour the traditional and the familiar. So I wasn’t too surprised to see the ensaïmadas disappearing in front of us, like plants being devoured by a swarm of locusts – while my glistening golden tarte tatin sat untouched, shunned for its foreignness. “Never mind,” said The Boss, sensing my disappointment. “Plenty for us!” And just then, two of the German guests stepped forward and helped themselves to large slices.