'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

Costa Blanca News (North Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - By Sa­man­tha Kett

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.

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