'They must be mad'
'They must be mad' was the main comment made by many expats who were among the hundreds that defied the cold weather on Saturday to see the Carnival descent of the River Bullent in Pego. Considering many participants ended up falling inside the freezing r
A final fling after having it large for two weeks, the 'Burial of the Sardine' restores calm to the neighbourhood
PEGO'S thrilling fiesta threesome concludes with a bizarre ritual in street-party format of which even many Spaniards who have enjoyed it practically since birth do not know the origins.
A funeral for a fish? What next? A requiem for chips? A memorial mass for mushy peas? And why a street party for any type of funeral? The 'Burial of the Sardine', or Entierro de la Sardina, comes a week after the carnival every year – which is preceded, a week before, by the loopy fancy-dress raft race on the river Bullent, pictured above, and is pretty much as riotous as the first two.
Giant papier mâché sardines are wheeled around town on carts or in barrows, revellers dress in black and carry firework 'guns' they 'shoot' everyone with (although they don't actually set light to anything or cause damage or injury, however alarming the sight may seem to the uninitiated), drink gets drunk, music gets danced to, and the model fish then go up in flames.
Well, I don't remember reading that in the bible...
Like most entries on Spain's fiesta calendar, the Entierro de la Sardina is linked to Church traditions but, in keeping with all the country's other holy holidays, said links are very tenuous indeed.
The carnival is supposed to be the night before the start of Lent, the last time for six weeks that the population gets to indulge in frivolity and decadence, and the 'sardine' is burnt as a symbolic 'laying to rest' of vices, sins and luxury.
Some say, however, that the carnival was created in Ancient Egypt, where everyone in town would wear decorative masks to hide their faces in order to show that they were all the same and there were no class divides, but that it was not finally sanctioned until the 6th century AD since the Church disapproved.
And naturally, as Lent historically starts on Ash Wednesday, the carnival moves to the nearest Saturday night to avoid multiple employees calling in drunk or hungover on the Thursday.
Sardines? Why not tuna, cod or swordfish?
Theories abound as to why it has to be a fish that's buried, why said fish has to be a sardine, and why it gets buried in the first place.
Some claim a bunch of Madrid youths wore mourning garb on the last day of the carnival to lament the fact that their fun was nearly over, whilst others maintain that a dynasty of nobles in Madrid ordered a consignment of sardines from northern Spain which, when they arrived, turned out to have gone off (they didn't have freezers in those days) so they threw them on the fires that were lit for the carnival celebrations.
Others say the ' Burial' part was to signify the destruction of vice in preparation for the six weeks of holy fasting and sacrifice ahead of Easter Sunday.
And additional speculations include the notion that what was burnt was in fact a rack of pork – depicting luxury and gluttony; as in, being a pig – but that this was colloquially known as a 'sardine' because it was shaped like one.
Whichever story is true, the vast majority of Spaniards, even those from Pego who plunge into the atmosphere of the Entierro de la Sardina with all the enthusiasm of people who have never observed Lent in their lives, have no idea about the origins of the festival and simply go along with it as an excuse to drink, dance, eat and indulge in general highjinks with their mates.
Actually, that just about sums up every fiesta you'll see this year anywhere in Spain.
If you're heading for Pego on the night of Saturday, February 17, at least you won't have had to have spent months beforehand designing the wackiest and most colourful costume you can dream up; just wear what you'd normally wear for a bit of frolicking in the street, except with thermals and several layers to keep the night-time cold at bay.