It''s pooch and pussycat prayer tiime!!
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
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 headcol- 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 paella-filled 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?