The fiesta of fire burns this weekend on Mallorca

The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!

The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!

Life is never dull on Mallorca. If Christmas, New Year, and Three Kings were not enough celebrations for this time of year, this weekend is the Sant Antoni fiestas. January 16th – the eve of the Saint’s day – is when Mallorcans traditionally light foguerons (bonfires) in the streets and make elaborate effigies of the Devil to set ablaze. Mallorca’s famous dimonis take to the streets with their manic dancing and scary costumes, and people have a jolly good time, cooking food on outdoor torrades (BBQs). And because it can be surprisingly cold at this time of the year (although not this winter, so far), a few libations are usually taken – very often the famous bright green Hierbas de Tunel.

In our local town, Manacor, the Sant Antoni fiestas almost seem more popular than Christmas. For the past couple of weeks, stalls set up in town on Saturdays have been selling this year’s design of Sant Antoni sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hats – and all at affordable prices.

The excitement is building. This morning, doing a few chores in town, we had to drive around a pile of earth in the middle of several roads, on which the bonfires for this Saturday night will be built. These piles will be increasing in number over the coming days. And several shops have incorporated Sant Antoni into their window displays.

Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni.

Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni.

Hiper's stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us.

Hiper’s stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us.

Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock . . .

Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock . . .

If you don’t know (and I confess that I didn’t until we moved to Mallorca), Sant Antoni was an Egyptian monk who, in the desert, was tempted by the Devil – cunningly disguised as a woman. The iron-willed monk didn’t succumb to these womanly wiles, instead walking on hot coals to take his mind off anything else getting too heated!

All this happened a long way from Mallorca, but stay with me. On the island during the 10th and 11th centuries, many folk were affected by a horrible skin disease caused by a poisonous fungus attacking rye crops. No cure was known, but the Mallorcans followed Sant Antoni’s example of using fire to fight the Devil that they believed had caused the disease.

The disease is long gone, but the fires burn on every eve of Sant Antoni, as the backdrop to much partying. And, on the Saint’s day itself, Mallorcans head for the streets again – to take their pets and other animals to be blessed by the local priest.

After the festivities of this weekend, things will quieten down . . . but not for long: Carnival this year falls on the first weekend of February!

 

Blessing the animals in Manacor, Mallorca

Fabulous fabrics in traditional local costume

Fabulous fabrics in traditional local costume

Something that has always impressed us, living in rural Mallorca, is the islanders’ passion for keeping local traditions alive. Young and old take part in the various festivities throughout the year – such as last weekend’s Sant Antoni fiestas.

What particularly impresses me is the willingness of teenage boys and young men to dress up in traditional costume (which includes voluminous  trousers), and engage in activities such as the local folk dance known as ball de bot.

I remember a male work colleague in the UK ‘coming out’ to me about his Morris dancing hobby. He lived in the same village as us and knew that I was bound to spot him performing locally with his troupe, but asked me not to mention it to anyone else at work. There seems not to be any similar embarrassment here among young guys who are doing their bit to keep  Mallorcan traditions alive – and isn’t that great?

Last Saturday we attended one of the annual animal blessings ceremonies that take place around the island to mark Sant Antoni (January 17th). Locals take pets and farm animals and process through the streets to the place where the local priest is stationed to bless each one as it passes. He must have had a very sore throat by the time he blessed the beast at the back of the long queue . . .

Cute kids in costume on a float

Cute kids in costume on a float

Dimonis are everywhere - and some are pretty scary!

Dimonis are everywhere – and some are pretty scary!

Another float on parade

Another float on parade

Not a dimoni you'd want to meet in a dark alley!

Not a dimoni you’d want to meet in a dark alley!

"Does my bum look big in this?"

“Does my bum look big in this?”

It’s a well-attended and charming event in Manacor, with plenty of cute “ooh” and “aah” moments. As well as individuals walking along with their pets, there are floats decorated with a rural theme and bearing people and farm animals, and the dimonis – or demons – that are a fixture at so many traditional events on Mallorca. The main streets are closed for several hours and lined with spectators – some of them seated on dining chairs brought out from their houses for more comfortable viewing.

Sunshine  meant it wasn't too chilly for a chinchilla!

Sunshine meant it wasn’t too chilly for a chinchilla!

A billy with a bottle

A billy with a bottle

Mallorcan traditions are for young and old alike

Mallorcan traditions are for young and old alike

Among the many animals that the priest blessed in Manacor last weekend were a chinchilla, dogs in traditional (human) costume, cats on leads, and even a hawk of some type, perched on its owner’s hand. We also saw a rather handsome billy goat.

As I write, some of the people who put so much effort into their costumes and decorated floats, will already be planning for next month’s big carnival weekend . . . another great tradition embraced with gusto.

Please note that all photos on http://www.livingonruralmallorca.com are my own unless otherwise stated.

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!

Bless ’em all

"So, what do you think of it so far, Rover?

“So, what do you think of it so far, Rover?

We’ve just come to the end of one of the most important weeks in the calendar of Manacor, our nearest town, in the east of Mallorca. Sant Antoni is the town’s patron saint, so it’s not surprising that the locals take the celebrations around this date rather seriously. Locally, it’s known as the Gran Semana – the big week.

Shops, businesses, and schools were closed on both Wednesday and Thursday, although supermarkets opened just for the morning on Wednesday, and our bank closed early every day of this past week. Almost everyone seemed to have bought themselves a sweatshirt or fleece emblazoned with this year’s Sant Antoni fiestas emblem and, costing around 16 euros a garment, they seemed a reasonably priced way to enter into the spirit of the event and keep warm.

Party on

And keeping warm has been necessary. The weather’s turned chilly and damp on Mallorca but, as we’ve seen on many occasions, the Mallorcans are rarely deterred by unpleasant weather conditions when there’s a party beckoning. We, however, wimped out and watched most of the celebrations on the local TV channel IB3, sitting in front of the log burner.

I was sorry to miss this year’s slow-moving parade of animals and imaginatively decorated floats around Manacor’s streets, on Thursday morning. On the morning of the saint’s day, animals of every sort – farm and domestic – are taken to be blessed by the local priest.

Attending previous animal blessings, I’ve considered taking Minstral, our Birman cat, but I suspect he’d be thoroughly miffed to have been removed from his favourite chair to mingle with animals the like of which he’s never seen. And, of course, we couldn’t take Minstral and leave behind the other eight cats that now call our finca home. I wonder if the local priest does house calls for animal blessings . . .