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SPANISH TRADITIONS

Is this Spain’s most ‘grotesque’ bull festival?

Twisting and grunting, a terrified bull with burning balls of tar attached to its horns charges into the darkness in a small town in Spain. Organisers don't want the general public to see the footage as "they know it's not culture, it's animal abuse," say activists.

fire bull festival spain
The "Toro de Júbilo" festival in the central Spanish town of Medinaceli, which dates back to the 16th century, is criticised for its practice of setting fire to a metal frame placed on the horns of a bull. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

Animal rights campaigners have called for a ban on a centuries-old festival in the medieval town of Medinaceli, calling it animal abuse.

The ironically named Toro de Júbilo – “Bull of Joy” – is an event which typically takes place on the second weekend in November.

Spanish anti-animal cruelty party PACMA has said it is mulling legal action against organisers of the event.

“This grotesque tradition continues to be celebrated even though we are no longer in the Stone Age,” it tweeted.

You can watch footage of the event in the YouTube video below. It is age-restricted given the graphic nature of the event.

Just before midnight on Saturday, a group of mostly men dressed in matching grey uniforms drag the bull into a makeshift bullring set up in the main square of the Castilla y León town.

They then tie the bull to a wooden post and attach balls of highly flammable tar to its horns as hundreds of people watch behind barriers. 

They cake mud to the animal’s back and face in an effort to protect it from the flames, before setting the tar balls alight.

Participants then release the bull into the square, covered in sand for the occasion, to cheers and applause from the crowd.

fire bull festival medinaceli

The bull is caged for several hours in a small box and covered in mud before the depraved spectacle begins. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

The bull frantically shakes its head to try to rid itself of the burning balls of tar as it races around the square.

Revellers then jump into the ring and attempt to dodge the bull in a purported test of courage. Some dangle a cape in front of it.

This continues for about 20 minutes until the flammable balls on its horns go out and the bull collapses. It is then dragged out of the ring.

‘Simply animal abuse’

The bull’s life is traditionally spared at the end of the event.

But in the 2022 edition the animal died after another young, castrated bull – which organisers sent into the bullring to guide him out of the arena – rammed him in the head, the festival said.

Jaime Posada, of the Spanish branch of animal rights group Anima Naturalis, which is also calling for a ban, said the bull is kept in a tight pen for hours before it is dragged into the square.

“It can’t move, it can hardly sit down, so it is stressed simply from that,” he told AFP.

Participants attach flammable balls to the bull’s horns before releasing it. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

Participants declined to be interviewed, and PACMA and other opponents of the fiesta said locals prevented them from filming the ritual.

“Why are they afraid? Basically because they know that this is not culture, it’s simply animal abuse and they enjoy doing it,” Posada said.

The festival, however, is one of the main events for Medinaceli, which is home to around 650 people.

The regional government of Castilla y León has even given the festival a special cultural status.

The Medinaceli town hall did not respond to a request to comment.

There is growing opposition among Spaniards to the hundreds of bull festivals which take place in Spain, but in rural communities in particular, many people still support these old traditions involving varying degrees of torture and distress for the bulls, and in many cases death.

Another controversial bull festival is El Toro de la Vega in Tordesillas near Valladolid, which sees one bull hunted to the death through the town’s streets by lancers on horseback and some on foot.

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SPANISH TRADITIONS

How Spain celebrates All Saints’ Day

All Saints' Day or Día de Todos los Santos as it’s called in Spanish falls on November 1st and is a public holiday in Spain. Discover how this day is celebrated across the country.

How Spain celebrates All Saints' Day

Major shops are closed, kids stay home from school and many businesses are shut too, so what do Spaniards do on All Saints’ Day? 

A day at the cemeteries

The most traditional activity to do on All Saints’ Day is to go to the local cemetery. Spanish families usually go together to the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried, clean their gravestones and leave fresh flowers. Some cemeteries may even have events on such as live music or dance performances.

It’s also a day for spending time with family and perhaps meeting at someone’s house for a meal.  

READ ALSO: Five weird and wonderful Spanish traditions on All Saints’ Day 

Traditional treats to enjoy on Día de Todos los Santos

Panellets

Panellets are traditional sweets from Catalonia eaten around this time of year. They are typically small balls made from marzipan and studded with pine nuts. You can, however, get many different flavours and many different types of decorations such as chocolate or even coffee ones, although most of them are still made with almond flour.  

Huesos de Santo

Saint’s bones as they are called in English are another typical treat found all over Spain at this time of year. Also made from marzipan, they’re long finger-like rolls filled with a sweet egg-yolk custard, created to look like bones. Today you can find many different flavours such as chocolate, coconut, praline or even yoghurt.

Try some huesos de Santo on All Saints’ Day. Photo: Tamorlan / WikiCommons

Buñuelos de Viento

Wind fritters are small deep-fried fritters or doughnuts, which are again found in many regions across Spain during this time of year. They’re made from a batter of flour, sugar, eggs and milk and then deep-fried in hot oil before being filled with different creamy centres.

The most typical is vanilla cream, but you can also find many different types. Another favourite is those filled with cabello de ángel or angel hair, which is essentially candied spaghetti squash.

Legend says that when you eat a buñuelo, a soul is released from purgatory, which is why eating them has become a popular custom on All Saints’ Day.

Experts vary in their opinion as to the origins of these fritters. Some say they date back to the Moors, while others claim that one of the first references to them went as far back as Roman times.

La Castañada

La Castañada (Castanyada in Catalan) is a tradition held across Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Aragón and coincides with All Saints’ Day and Halloween, even though it’s a separate festival. During the days leading up to these and the days itself, you’ll find chestnut sellers on street corners, roasting shiny brown chestnuts and big pumpkin-coloured sweet potatoes.

Children also go to school around the time, dressed as chestnut sellers.

This is the time of year for roast chestnuts in Spain. Photo: Angel Abril Ruiz / WikiCommons

Many regions in Spain have their own versions of the Castañada, such as Gaztañerre Eguna in the Basque Country and Navarra, which is known as the ‘día de las castañas asadas‘ or day of the roast chestnuts. It is typically celebrated on November 2nd and All Saints’ Night when families gather to honour their deceased loved ones by eating chestnuts, snails in sauce and motokil, similar to polenta made from cornmeal.

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