Fiesta de San Anton

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!

Sedella, Spain

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.

San Anton

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!

 

Sedella Church & Town Square

El Almendro

Almond blossom

The almond tree. Seems like a small thing, but here in the mountains of Spain, not so. At the beginning of our trip last year, the almond blossoms were half-developed; however, this year we came a bit earlier. January 1st to be exact (Cheryl found better airline deals at this time) and the buds on the trees had not yet popped. As part of our house sit we walk two dogs, Homer and Otis, twice daily. We’ve watched through the month of January the unfolding of the almond blossoms’ white blanket covering the peaks and valleys which sit below the majestic Mt. Maroma. I thought, there has to be some Spanish folklore or an old story picking up on this annual phenomenon. Yup! Thanks Google, here it is.

Long ago in the Algarve, while under Moorish rule, a famous king fell in love with a beautiful princess from the north. After conquering her father’s land, he conquered her heart and took her hand in marriage. All went well for King Fagar and Princess Gilda until one day the king noticed his bride had become sad. Gilda fell ill and King Fagar called in physicians from near and far to tend to her. Yet not a one could cure her or define her ailment. A distraught King Farar left the palace one night to clear his head and ran into an old prisoner from the north. The prisoner told the king, “Princess Gilda suffers from Snow Nostalgia” as she missed the snow-covered hills of her northern home. The king had noticed that in the spring the white blossoms of the almond tree reminded him of snow, so he ordered all his lands planted with this blossoming nut tree. When the trees were in blossom, the king brought Gilda outside to the see the snow-covered hills and her sadness quickly left and all was good again.

So there you have it. Of course you may know the almond tree like the olive, lemon and 
orange trees are very drought-resistant and fare well in the dry rocky soil that is Spain. Not to mention the grape and Spain’s vino market. The U.S. Is the leading producer of almonds with 898,167 metric tons annually. Spain follows with 230,000 metric tons. Italy is third with 100,664 metric tons with Iran close behind with 99,551. Also, the EU subsidizes its farmers for growing trees. Some broad leaf and conifers are planted for lumber on the flat, but the olive, almond and carob trees are planted on the steep hillsides to prevent erosion. So steep in fact, nothing else is growing up there. We’ve also noticed the slope is so drastic that equipment can’t mow and the goat and sheep herders move their flocks through the orchard trees keeping the underbrush trimmed.

It’s nice to know the stats, but I must say it is striking to witness the Arbol de Almendras in full blossom when planted so plentifully on the hills below Mt. Moroma. The fragrance is also striking when in full bloom. Our foster dogs, who actually walk us, have taken to picking up almonds and cracking them amid trot. And yes, everybody has to stop while they munch the spoils of their labor.