You’ve probably already heard all about La Tomatina, and you might have even flamencoed your toes off, but Spain is home to a whole barrage of kooky and lesser-known time-honoured traditions:
Spain seems to have a penchant for throwing things in celebration, whether that means wine in La Rioja, water in Lanjaron, or dead rats in Valencia. Yes, you read that correctly. The Battle of the Dead Rat takes place in El Puig during the fiesta of San Pedro Nolasco, and people continue to celebrate this special occasion by slinging deceased rodents at each other.
The tradition began around the turn of the 20th century, during the local Sant Pere Festival, when piñata-esque cucañas were filled with fruit and nuts, attracting rats who would manage to sneak inside them. On the day of the festival itself, when locals would hit the cucañas with sticks in an attempt to reach the treats within, the rats would appear, much to the crowd’s disappointment. The festival-goers would then bash away at the rats with their sticks, and toss their dead bodies up into the air.
Now, the tradition is an annual occurrence, celebrated by locals and tourists alike, and the cucañas are deliberately filled with sweets and dead rats, ready to be thrown into the crowds. If you fancy taking a rat to the face, head down to the town square on the last Sunday of January, and remember: if someone happens to lob a dead rat at you, it’s customary to sling one back at them!
Antzar Eguna (Day of the Goose) is a Basque tradition in which a greased dead goose is suspended over water with a rope, and young men leap from boats in an attempt to rip the goose’s head off. To make it even more difficult, the rope is occasionally slackened by spectators to dunk the competitor into the water.
The competition has taken place as part of the San Antolín festival for around 350 years, and is considered to be the ideal way for a young man to demonstrate strength and eligibility as a bachelor to local women. The victor not only walks away with female admiration, but also the oily and decapitated goose! So, if you think you’re strong enough, make your way to the village of Lekeitio on 5th September and give it a try!
Ever had a near-death experience? Get yourself down to Las Nieves for the Santa Marta de Ribarteme festival for a B.Y.O.C. party (that’s Bring Your Own Coffin) on 29th July. As it goes, Santa Marta is the Patron Saint of resurrection, so to honour her, you can choose between hauling a coffin during the procession to the mass, or being carried in one, all to celebrate the fact that the festival-goers managed to escape death. Sharing your near-death experiences is all part and parcel of the event, and the night is topped off with a firework finale, so at least something goes out with a bang.
The Catalonian region of Spain could win an award for having the most bizarre Christmas traditions. Instead of Father Christmas, why not have Caga Tió, the defecating log? If you feed this little guy from 8th December, and beat him with a stick whilst singing the Caga Tió song come Christmas Day, he’ll “excrete” little presents under his cloak…as you do.
The faecal fun doesn’t end there; small statuettes of people relieving themselves, are hidden in nativity scenes for loved ones to find. These figurines known as ‘caganers’ (Catalan for ‘defecators’) have been a tradition since the 17th century, but nowadays, it’s not unusual to find a miniature Albert Einstein squatting next to the manger. Nothing like a treasure dump to get you in the Christmas spirit!
For those of you who might be strapped for cash and celebrating your birthday in Spain: keep schtum! The Spanish treat everyone else when their birthday rolls around, rather than receiving the treats, so be prepared to cough up at the bar or restaurant!