There are many fiestas in Spain throughout the year, but one of the big ones in January is the Fiesta de San Anton. We happened to be lucky enough to experience it this year!
We are housesitting just outside of Sedella in the southern region of Spain known as Andalusia. Just prior to leaving on their trip, our homeowners mentioned that there would be a festival in the village over the weekend. We decided to check it out!
First a little history for you! San Anton Abad (Saint Anthony) was a Christian monk born in Egypt in 251 AD. He was born into a rich family but choose to give his wealth to the poor and lived a humble life. San Anton (aka Anthony the Great) spent most of his life praying and fasting in the desert. He is credited as being the first monk to sojourn into the wilderness to renew his faith through nature, thus beginning a practice that continues to this day for many. Legend tells that while in the desert, Anton was tempted by demons in the shape of woman and various animals. Since the Middle Ages, he has been acknowledged as the Patron Saint of domestic animals. The fiestas began in his honor during the 17th century. Saint Francis of Assisi is recognized as the patron saint of animals by many in the Catholic faith worldwide; however, Catholics in Spain and Mexico celebrate San Anton since he lived 900 years before St Francis. San Anton is often portrayed in paintings wearing a monk’s robe with a pig at his feet.
Moving ahead to the modern times, the fiesta begins on the night prior to January 17. Bonfires are lit throughout the region as the party starts ramping up! You will hear firecrackers exploding randomly throughout the night and into the next day.
In Sedella, there is a huge street party. It is mostly locals with a sprinkling of tourists and expats thrown in. There are bands performing and a parade through the tiny streets of the village. About ten townsmen carry an ornate, heavy statue of San Anton on their shoulders through village. They are trailed by a marching band and dozens of celebrants and animals! An outdoor bar is set up and busily serving beer, wine and mixed drinks to the thirsty revelers. There were many horses with their riders and handlers crowding the square. At one point, a restaurant owner made the rounds with trays of food to offer to the riders and handlers.
The highlight of the festival is the blessing of the animals by the local priest. Throughout Spain, thousands of people bring their animals into the church for the blessing with holy water by the priest. All kinds of animals – dogs, cats, mules, sheep, horses, snakes, rabbits, turtles, ferrets! People believe it is their obligation to their companion animals, as well farm animals, to bring them for the annual blessing. The blessing of pets is a means of ensuring their well-being and safety. Farm animals are blessed to protect them from illness and danger and to ensure an abundant livestock production! The blessing for well-being and safety is thought to be extended to the owners as well.
With brilliant blue skies, temperatures in the low 70s, 1.50€ beers, free tapas and happy people, it was more than a pleasant way to spend our afternoon!