Witches, Pagans and Saints an excuse for a good party

23/07/2010 - One advantage about living in Spain is that there are a numbers of “fiesta” days, meaning long weekends and a few, much welcomed, extra days off work.

Witches, Pagans and Saints  an excuse for a good party

Although most of these holidays are ostensible religious occasions and observed by the pious, they often have hidden, less godly origins – the best known examples in the Christian calendar being Christmas which replaced the pagan Yule, Easter which incorporated ancient fertility rites and All Saint’s Day which is mixed with the deep superstitions of Halloween.

This practice, called syncretism, was not borne from a liberal desire to respect existing beliefs but, instead, from a pragmatic and necessary strategy for a proselyte religion.

In times gone by, as they conquered the globe and especially pagan Europe, the early Christians, then laterally the Catholic Church, quickly realised it was impossible to completely eradicate the inherent beliefs of new, mostly reluctant, coverts.

To make Christianity more relevant to existing cultures, indigenous beliefs were adopted, adapted, borrowed and blended into the Christian dogma, resulting in the hybrid Pagan/ Christian festivals we know and love throughout Europe today - and which often allow us a longed for, extra day off work.

In Gran Canaria, as in much of Europe, we’ve just celebrated the Night of Saint John.

Commemorating the birthday of St. John the Baptist and/or celebrating Summer Solstice thousands of revellers jumped over the many bonfires which burned on beaches around the island supposedly to ward off witches. Others threw fruit and flowers into the sea - as offerings to the deities.

And lots of people also got drunk - many on evil spirits, one supposes – so we’re not sure how that one fits in.

And just in case you’re visiting Anfi this summer, here we have some other summer fiestas to look forward to:

July: Fiestas del Carmen:

In early July, festivities in honour of the Virgin del Carmen, the patron saint of sailors are held in fishing villages around the island, including Arguineguin, the village next to Anfi. A regatta of colourful boats, a touching religious procession and street parties make this a great day out.

August 4th: Bajada de la Rama (Bringing of the Brach):

Reminiscent of aboriginal rituals when natives climbed to dizzying high mountain forests, bringing branches down to beat the surface of the sea to encourage rain - today, thousands of modern day revellers gather on the beaches of this coastal town and do a bit of sea beating themselves in reverence of their ancestors. There is also a procession were the patron saint of the town “La Virgen de las Nieves” (The Virgin of the Snow) is carried to the sanctuary. They also, of course drink a lot of rum and have a great time dancing to local rhythm bands.

September 8th: “Fiestas del Pino” (Celebration of the Virgin of the Pines)

This is Gran Canaria’s largest festival in the honour of the Our Lady of the Pines – the island’s patron saint. While, many villages around the island celebrate this saint, the main festivities are centred in the mountain village of Teror, where thousands of pilgrims gather from all over the island after marathon marches of penance and petitions.

September 11th Fiesta del Charco (Party of the Pond): Aldea de San Nicolas

This is a unique fiesta were locals relive ancient traditions when the island’s first people caught fish in the large coastal pond at the mouth of a ravine by drugging them with the sap of local plants. Nowadays thousands of partygoers jostle to plunge themselves into the pond in hope of the catching some stoned sea creature for their supper.

For more information on these and other events check out the Gran Canarian Tourist Board website:http://www.grancanaria.com/patronato_turismo/283.0.html
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