Dozens of town festivals take place every year in most of the Mediterranean Countries. Food is the the theme of several of them, as for the Eurochocolate Festival, an international event where a whole city gets invaded by chocolate shops!
In Italy we call most of these festivals “sagre”: sagra della cipolla (onion festival in Cannara), sagra della torta al testo (stuffed flat bread festival in S. Egidio) just to mention few of them. Other festivals though can have a religious origin and celebrate a catholic festivity or a Saint Patron.
I was born in Umbria, and on 8th September we celebrate Santa Maria della Consolazione, in honor of the birth of the Virgin Mary. The festival involves religious celebrations, street markets and, at the end of the evening, the most spectacular and deafening fireworks.
Though this year it happened I have been traveling in Spain, and I discovered that, on the same week in Ayerbe, a little village not too far from Pamplona (Spain), they have a very special celebration too.
On the 8th September I realized something was going on in the town as, even before dinner time, people from the village could be spot walking on the street, all converging in one direction. And then, gradually, the street became more noisy and a band started playing. I was too curious to ignore all this excitement of the villagers and decided to follow the flow and have a look.
And it didn’t take me too long to realize that the whole town was assembled in the main square, inciting a young boy that looked like was getting ready to accomplish a hard challenge. He was standing next to a pole, taller more than 6-7 meters. A big cured whole ham was fixed at the top of it. The boy jumped on that slippery wooden pole and climbed, as an agile little monkey, the pole up to the very top. He collected the ham and brought it back down. Everyone was ecstatic and jubilant! And in one minutes, the ham was sliced up and everyone on the square was given a slice to try.
I asked around and I have been told they were celebrating the Saint Patron of Ayerbe, Santa Leticia, a virgin and martyr that had to face exile to defend her faith and virtue.
The whole village was there and they started preparing for an even bigger celebration. Kids on the street were loaded with firecrackers and they were bravely standing next to the lighted petards. Some adults were setting tables on the street and on the main square and other were setting a fire…on the street! Wood was burning and the smoke could be smelled from any part of the town. Shortly, a huge load of meat arrived and, once on the meat was on the grills, the smell of smoke turned into the scent of a delicious barbecue.
The celebration continued all night and in the morning, when I went for a walk around 8am, people of all ages were still awake from the night before, having a laugh in the main square and sipping the last glass of beer before going to bed.
Saint Leticia is officially celebrated on the 9th September, and it’s on this day that the most important part of the whole event happens. The whole town reunited again in the center of the town. There were ballroom dancing, al fresco dinner along the streets and gardens and, around midnight, a unique show. A man wearing a metal bull-shaped armor went on the street and started running. The armor was fully covered by fireworks and firecrackers that, once ignited, flared up and filled the roads with smokes and flying petards. Kids and adults were following the metal bull, screaming both for the excitement and for the adrenaline, as some fireworks were randomly flying toward people. A local woman told me her husband has a “hole” in her back for a firework that hit him few years ago during this same festival.
As if this was not enough, just after midnight, everyone sat around the main square.In the same location where the previous day the pole with the ham was standing, hundreds of fireworks were now places, ready to be lighted for the final big BOOM! The noise was so loud I was deaf for few hours afterward!! I sat there with the locals and… you can enjoy the show yourself watching the video I recorded myself.
What an incredible experience to witness such a traditional event. So many festivals like this happen all over Europe, in small towns of Italy, Spain, France and several more. And taking part in one of them is something really special, as it allows you to live the life of that town in a way you could never do as a tourist.
If you have never been to one, then you should check your calendar, ask local experts, get a flight ticket and go to enjoy one of these old and authentic traditions! Summer is usually the best period, though every month o the year, in every Country, you can find something going on.
So…where are you going next?