Put your paws to­gether – it's pooch-and-pussy­cat prayer time!

All crea­tures great and small take a very noisy Holy Com­mu­nion in the weird­est and cutest church ser­vice of the year in trib­ute to San An­tón, the pa­tron saint of an­i­mals

Costa Blanca News (North Edition) - - FEATURE - By Saman­tha Kett

THEY say every sec­ond house­hold in Spain has at least one an­i­mal in it. That means only 50% of homes have a fight­ing chance of be­ing pris­tine and or­derly, whilst the rest are kit­ted out with hair-cov­ered so­fas (well, they do call it 'fur­ni­ture' for a rea­son), with paw­prints on walls, or­na­ments blu­tacked down, bolts on the out­side of 'banned rooms' to stop pussies and pooches grab­bing the han­dle and let­ting them­selves in, and prob­a­bly half of those of you read­ing this ar­ti­cle had to res­cue it be­fore it turned into mul­ti­ple pa­per snowflakes scat­tered all over the floor.

If you can never leave a cuppa unat­tended in case the con­tents get drunk, the mug smashed, or both; if you're wo­ken daily by Puss sit­ting on your blad­der de­mand­ing to be fed or Rover dan­gling his lead from his mouth over your head, and if you hon­estly be­lieved the book or film of Twelve Years a Slave was about petown­er­ship, it might be time to take your fluffy friends to the con­fes­sion box and get a stern priest to or­der them to say a few Hail Marys.

Or at least, give them a pat on the head and wish them all the best for the New Year.

After all, we couldn't live with­out them. These lit­tle peo­ple multi-task as coun­sel­lors, hot-wa­ter bot­tles, con­ver­sa­tion part­ners, hug-bud­dies, hats, pil­lows and even chil­dren – and, let's face it, only bor­ing folk have tidy houses.

Glut­tons for pun­ish­ment will be head­ing for church on Sun­day, Jan­uary 20 with their besties on leads or in head­col­paella-filled lars, in boxes or cages for what is prob­a­bly the cutest ser­vice of the year: the an­i­mal bless­ing cer­e­mony in hon­our of Saint An­thony, or San An­tón.

Luck­ily for the priest's blood pres­sure, it takes place out­side his usual place of wor­ship, which would oth­er­wise turn into a Ba­bel Tower of miaows, woofs, tweets (and that's just the own­ers check­ing their so­cial me­dia sites in the queue), baas, neighs, moos, oinks, and a fair bit of hiss­ing and growl­ing, too.

An eclec­tic and steamy va­ri­ety of poo and pee are also pretty much a given, so you might want to leave your best Mano­los at home and watch where you're walk­ing.

The pa­tron of all God's crea­tures – the non-hu­man va­ri­eties – San An­tón, or Sant An­toni in va­len­ciano – ought to be proof enough that be­ing owned by cats, dogs, horses, rab­bits and guinea pigs is the se­cret to a long life: leg­end has it that he lived to be 105.

Or per­haps his giv­ing away ev­ery­thing he owned to the poor might have done the trick, but on bal­ance, most of us would rather keep our stuff, get a pet and just set up a stand­ing or­der for Cári­tas or the Red Cross.

This Egyp­tian-born saintly fig­ure is also be­lieved to be the pa­tron of skin con­di­tions (if you suf­fer from acne or eczema, per­haps get­ting blessed along with your four-legged friend will sort it out for you), her­mits, monks, epilep­tics, grave-dig­gers and bas­ketweavers.

And since he started be­ing an ex­cuse for yet an­other fi­esta in Spain, he seems to have be­come the un­of­fi­cial pa­tron of caul­drons, bon­fires with baked po­ta­toes, neigh­bour­hood gath­er­ings, craft mar­kets and dried fruit.

We're not sure where the con­nec­tion is be­tween open-air par­ties and a Mid­dle-Eastern cen­te­nar­ian who re­stored a blind wild boar lit­ter's sight – earn­ing a porcine body­guard for life in the shape of their grate­ful mother – but, as any­one who lives in Spain has fig­ured out by now, no­body re­ally cares any­how.

Tra­di­tion­ally, San An­tón week­end means small, in­land vil­lages light gi­ant camp fires, cook food on them and dance drunk­enly around them, and it's the one time of year when a truce is called on hedge wars: even if you never speak to each other the re­main­ing 364 days of 2019, you're ex­pected to share bon­fires with your neig­bours.

It's also when the por­rats hit the streets – orig­i­nally mar­kets sell­ing dried and can­died fruit, they've now ex­tended into a full Me­di­ae­val fayre with traders in Arab peas­ant cos­tume ped­dling fab­u­lous, colour­ful arts and crafts (the bas­ket-weav­ing bit finds its niche, after all) as wan­der­ing min­strels ser­e­nade shop­pers and artists, pot­ters, lace-mak­ers and car­pen­ters give demon­stra­tions.

Most por­rats will kick off this af­ter­noon (Fri­day, Jan­uary 11) and run un­til Sun­day, re­sum­ing next week­end, too – and some towns will be cook­ing up paella on mas­sive stoves in the street, which you can help your­self to if you turn up with a plate and cut­lery – although oth­ers will com­bine the an­i­mal bless­ing and the por­rat in one, al­beit not in the same place. That could be dis­as­trous.

Saint An­thony's day is in fact on Jan­uary 17, so you might also find mini-por­rats kick­ing about then, too.

Nat­u­rally, it'll all leave a bit of a mess be­hind on the streets, but this ver­sa­tile chap even has that bit cov­ered – San An­tón was the pa­tron saint of broom­mak­ers, so the mass up-sweep­ing that fol­lows the won­der­ful out­door chaos will even form part of the cel­e­bra­tions.

If you're brave enough, start dig­ging out and dust­ing off your lit­tle furry mon­sters' best Sun­day col­lars – and if you're not, we don't blame you, but take your cam­era along for some Face­book fod­der.

After all, no­body would be­lieve you if you told them how ev­ery­one takes their pets to church once a year un­less you could show pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence, would they?

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