Along with much of the rest of Spain, the weekend before last was when the annual fiesta of San Antonio was celebrated. This is a ‘minor’ but ritualised fiesta that revolves around the blessing of a community’s animals.
In my village, the night before the fiesta, there were fireworks and a large bonfire, around which much of the village gathered to enjoy the delights of free wine and nuts and jovial company. The next day (Sunday) the morning church service was followed by a formal procession that circled the village. This involved an effigy from the church being rolled out and pushed by several of the village men with, behind it, our village priest looking suitably solumn. Behind him were twenty or so members of our village band playing beautifully performed music that ranged from the stirring to the elegaic.
However, the most extraordinary sight of all was seeing the vast majority of the village population (from the oldest to the very youngest) walking ahead of the effigy – with virtually everyone carrying or leading their animals. These varied from parrots, mice and small creatures to tortoises, dogs and horses.
Gradually, the procession wound its way through the village and slowly back to the church where the priest was presented with the villager’s animals. These were blessed individually before the villagers eventually dispersed to their homes and various bars.
I can almost hear you sighing in bored incredulity! What, you may well ask, has this got to do with moving to Spain?
Well, in my view, everything!
Yet again, our village demonstrated that not only was Spanish culture ‘alive and well’ but that it was relevant to the whole community. Almost the entire village was involved in the fiesta and almost everyone took an active part.
Naturally, it would be easy to make fun of the idea of ‘blessing’ animals, just as you could easily mistake the San Antonio fiesta for indicating a deep religiosity amongst the Spanish. Certainly, the latter is not true, anymore in my village than elsewhere in Spain. The Spanish are a secular society with, probably, the same low proportion of people attending church as in the UK. However, in Spain, a fiesta (based on religion or otherwise) is all about the unity of a community as a whole. This means that the participation of everyone is important – even if it involves giving a gentle and tolerant ‘nod’ to any religious element.
My point, of course, is that the ‘nuclear’ community in Spain (as a whole) still exists and, in the case of my delightful village, it works very well. It functions ‘overtly’ as seen during fiestas but also (far more importantly) it works on a day to day basis. This is why crime is low and why life in Spain can be so seductive, particularly if you integrate within your local Spanish community. If you do – then you have every chance of being an integral part of a ‘culture’ that probably last existed in the UK, in any meaningful sense, over fifty years ago.
Certainly, our life in Spain has been ‘made’ by the Spanish themselves and by Spanish culture. Not high Spanish culture, of course, but the culture present in our day to day lives. Overwhelmingly, this has been one of toleration and welcome, generosity of spirit and a sense of fun – all within a caring, tightly knit community.
Of course, the weather is great, the al fresco life attractive and access to beautiful beaches and mountains wonderful. However, none of these things are sufficient, long term, to make life in Spain (in my view!) truly fulfilling. That, for us, has come from the Spanish people themselves, their way of life, values and overall culture. These are the real reasons for moving to Spain and why life in Spain can be so enchanting…
Incidentally, were we (as Britons) allowed to participate in the fiesta and have our animals blessed? Absolutely – and several English friends of ours did so. Unfortunately, we have a huge Alsatian who would ‘dine’ on other animals -given half the chance – so we could not take her! However, we did join the procession and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere – whilst openly declaring our support and committment to our village.
Nick Snelling - Culture Spain