Every January in Mallorca the festival of Sant Antoni is celebrated, and one of the key towns to embrace its tradition is Sa Pobla, which is the closest town to the grove and a place we often go for dinner or for a stroll around the market. Having heard a lot about the festival, this year Andrew and I went to experience it in all its glory.
San Antoni is the patron saint of farm animals, but the essence of the festival in Sa Pobla extends way beyond the blessing of animals. Upon arriving in the town the day before the festival I was surprised to see mounds of earth randomly dumped in piles in the narrow streets. Little did we know that these were to be the platform for bonfires which would be lit on the night of the festival. We chatted to the locals to get the gist of what to expect the following day and how to experience the festival to its fullest, and we learnt that the preparation included: 1. buying a ximbomba (special percussion hand drum) 2. buying some sheep bells, which we were to attach to ourselves and 3. sampling Sa Pobla’s traditional Sant Antoni dish – espinagades which are pastry pies filled with eel or pork (we opted for pork!). We soon found out there’s probably a reason for this dense pasty-like dish to be associated with the festival: it’s perfect drinking food!
On the day of the festival – Saturday 16th January – it was a bright sunny day, but there was a definite crispness in the cool January air. We both wrapped up warm in our thick woolly jumpers, carrying the ximbomba and jingling our sheep bells. We gathered by the church amongst crowds of locals in anticipation of the procession to begin. Children were dressed as devils with their bells tied around their wastes and adults already had a glass of Rioja in hand, ready for the celebrations to start. At 2pm the dimonis (men dressed as demons) started to file out into the street – with oversized red papier-mâché heads and carrying brooms they looked quite menacing. Apparently the demons are selected through a lottery draw every year and it’s quite an honour to be selected.
After the demons had gathered in front of the town hall to dance, they then collectively followed a route around the town, entering into all of the bars along the way. Many of the locals follow the procession of demons, whilst others take a more permanent position in one of the bars or restaurants for one big party. After gallivanting after the demons, Andrew and I had a break for a late lunch – more espinagades at our favourite local restaurant, Marinas - before heading back to the party. As it started to get dark, the bonfires were lit, and everyone assembled into the town square for the main procession. At this point the gigantes and the caparottes (people dressed with big papier-mâché heads representing key figures in history) entered as a procession through the square, which was followed by a huge firework display and music. At this point we headed back to Marinas for dinner, but many of the locals then go to their family homes for a big meal and party.
We learned that essentially the sentiment of the festival is likened to being a ‘witching night’ where people are given the opportunity to let go of their demons. Overall, though, we got the impression that it’s an opportunity for the community and their families to come together to celebrate. It was a truly unique experience. We’ll be back next year with our bells jingling, and we may even be brave enough to try the eels!