Mallorca Monday: Sant Antoni

Manacor has just finished a whirlwind two weeks of absolutely fun nonsense. Bonfires, communal barbecue, demons dancing, and animal blessings. It’s been a mess of partying, merriment, and chanting.

The Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony) festival is fairly unique to our area. Palma (the capital) has some different stuff (also related to Saint Sebastian) but it doesn’t really compare to our area. Interestingly, each village in our area does things a little differently. For example we all wear black in Manacor but in Arta (a nearby village) they wear white. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Some villages have the demon represented by a skeleton, while ours is a tongue-out demon dude.

So what is it?

It is technically the feast day of Saint Anthony. We talked a little about feast days on the birthday post. The day of the feast is the day of that saint’s death. So Saint Anthony died on January 17th so his feast day (and thus the festival) is on the 17th.

It’s important to note that we’re talking about Saint Anthony the Abbot/Great not Saint Anthony of Padua. That’s a different dude. We’re going to just write Saint Anthony as Sant Antoni because that’s how they spell it (in Catalan) here and it’s shorter to write. Here San Antoni is considered to be the patron saint of animals, particularly horses, donkeys and mules. If you’re well versed in your Patron Saint of XYZs then you would know Saint Anthony to be the patron saint of skin diseases and basket makers to us English speakers. Go figure? I have no idea how that got crossed up and messed around. Obviously we’re not celebrating skin diseases or baskets, here, we’re celebrating farm animals and the resistance of sin.

The story goes that Sant Antoni had a lot of temptations thrown at him. As he journeyed through the desert and in caves a bunch of supernatural and demonic things came to tempt him – but he resisted. So that is what we’re celebrating: resisting sin, but also farm animals. And we celebrate it by burning logs, chanting and blessing animals. If you are saying to yourself “now that sounds a wee bit pagan” you’re correct.

The holiday does date back to pagan times. But the exact history has been, er, lost (annihilated and replaced). There was probably some sort of fertility festival around this time. It was replaced with a Christian festival which we all know is pretty common for Christian holidays to step on Pagan holidays – see Saturnalia being replaced with Christmas and Samhain with All Saints Day. Here they acknowledge this on the Manacor website saying “San Antoni is the holy par excellence that represents the triumph of Christianity over the ancient pagan gods, [who] assimilated to the devil.” So Sant Antoni resisted temptation of the devil and thus his festival resists the temptation of pagan celebrations. Makes as much sense as really anything else.

It was an easy transition from pagan to Christian either way because Manacor and the surrounding area has always had a lot of farm animals. It’s an easy transition from a pagan animal fertility (please let these animals procreate so we have food next winter) to Sant Antoni will bless and keep these animals alive so we have food next winter. Easy peasy transition.

As for the resistance of sin, everyone got really excited about this story in the 1400s and started painting it on any surface they could find. It was a fun bible story to paint because you could make it really horrific and messy. Some big names painted Sant Antoni resisting demons/sins over the years – including Martin Schöngaue, Hieronymus Bosch, and Mathias Grünewald, Michelangelo, and Salvador Dalí.

All the art portrays weird temptations and unearthly demons haunting Sant Antoni in the deserts/caves.

Look how stoic he is as the demons beat on him. This is actually the general theme of all the parties all week. The Devil and his two assistants (demons) dance around a stoic Sant Antoni. He doesn’t move as they dance around him, he just resists their temptation. While they dance and he resists, everyone in the audience sings the special Sant Antoni song (more on this later).

So that’s the whole party? Just watching a recreation of resisting sin?

Hahaha! This is Spain. And honestly every party from Easter to Christmas must be celebrated heartily. In Andalucia Easter was a 5 day sundown to sunup (no joke until 3, 4, or 5 am) party town. Oh-ho the booze flows thick and there are “please drink responsibly” posters abound. The party is to burn bonfires, eat, drink, be merry, endlessly chant the Sant Antoni song, and watch some other guy resist sin.

This is a one day party celebrated over 2 weeks. And it starts 3 weeks before (yes it starts before the 2 weeks) with everyone wearing all the Sant Antoni gear all day and all night. Almost overnight everyone starts wearing their official Sant Antoni shirts, hats, sweaters, sweatshirts, beanies, neckerchiefs and bags. It’s uncanny how many people wear them. 3 weeks before the party started they were sold out of adult shirts. Gotta party hard for Sant Antoni.

Also all the children dress as the sinners (?!?!). Because it’s way more fun to dress like them than the hero, Sant Antoni. So they dress as burning naked sinners covered in flames, chains, and snakes. They keep a bell on their backs and the school is filled with little baby sinners running around ringing each other’s bells. Seriously, I don’t know who is sewing these costumes but there’s a big market for them here. 

Then 2 weeks before the feast day the bonfires start. These are impromptu bonfires that just, happen. Someone puts dirt in the middle of the road, then soon it’s covered in wood. The fire department and city are aware of them and have some cursory crowd control barriers off in the corner to pretend like they’re controlling it. But for the most part there is a bonfire right in the middle of a neighborhood street. Everyone brings their own meat and the city sets up communal grills. When the fire runs low, you grab a shovel and take some of the fire from the bonfire to fill the grill back up. Bottomless grilling fuel. Then you drink and eat with all your friends as a big community group. Then you do this again two or three more times over the weeks. Don’t forget to chant and sing the Sant Antoni song a lot!

The day-of, January 17th, is not a party at all. The night before is where the party is at. This is when the “real” devil comes. All the chanting and singing so far has been a guy in a mask, but the real demon with the real official horns and tongue comes and does the real dance. I thought all of the other hometown Demons were fine enough but people told me I was wrong, the only devil worth anything is the tongue out demon who comes on the 16th. All others are pretenders. Accept only brand name demon.

The party lasts all night. All. Night. Until 6 am or something. We quit at midnight but everyone was going real strong, still.

The next morning (the actual day of the feast) if you’re not unconscious you can watch the animal blessing parade. All the animals get decorated and dressed up then go on parade down the city. Towards the front a priest has holy water and he blesses the animals (which only lasts 365 days so if you want your dog to stay blessed you must come back next year). You would maybe think this is all children wanting their hamsters to get blessed, but there’s a pretty big number of normal citizens, old men and farming families who legitimately come to get blessed and show off their cute animals. Some are even race horses for the local track racing, others are trained Spanish horses who can do dances and jump on command. Others are just birds or even a cat, locked up tight in a cage but still got blessed with the water.

This parade lasts a long time and all the animals are good and blessed. The priest takes it seriously and gave everyone a good couple extra shakes of the holy water in case he missed any animals – I mean, they are animals, they move around a lot.

There are some religious ceremonies and other events. Honestly it’s a very busy 2 weeks. They don’t have any posters because you couldn’t possibly keep a list of every event on one poster. You have to get a full booklet if you want to know what’s where and when.



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