people will know this fiesta; it’s the one where the animals are blessed during
a huge concentration of pets of all shapes and sizes in the main square in the
old town. However, the festivities are so much more than a single morning’s
work for the local priest for there is the traditional burning of the pine tree
to warm up a chilly January evening.
programme at the bottom of the page vv]
The exact origin of the burning of the pine is lost in the mists of
time, no doubt at some point being an important Pagan winter festival that was
linked with Midwinter, celebrating the growing power of the sun after winter’s
increasing darkness and chill as well as the ritual of purification as winter
begins to shift towards spring.
However, there is a traditional Mediterranean story that seems to link
fire with San Antonio. The tale speaks of a world without fire, the flames
being contained in Hell so that the people shivered from the cold during the
long winter nights, unable to speak for their teeth would begin to chatter. San
Antonio was once a pig-herder and when he was found in the desert he had a pig
that would never leave his side. On learning about the frozen lands, he went to
the very door of Hell and tapped on it with his staff of birch. The demons
peered out of the window, recognising the saint and refusing entry on the
grounds that only sinners could enter the Inferno.
Just then the pig, always by San
Antonio’s side, let out a loud grunt
and scratched the door with his nose. The demons thought: "roast pork" and said
that the pig may enter but the saint had to remain outside. The door opened
just a little and the pig charged through the gap and created so much havoc
that the demons declared that San Antonio could come in after all but only if
the pig remained outside! He walked in, touched the pig with his staff which
instantly grew calm and then warmed himself by the fire.
As the demons passed him by on their way to report to Lucifer about the
new arrival, San Antonio tapped them on the bottom with his staff. Unamused,
they told him to put it down and he laid it on the ground beside him. Just
then, a young demon, excited by the arrival of a new soul, was so eager to tell
Lucifer that he tripped over the staff and fell into a pile of ashes. Not
recognising the saint, he seized the staff and thrust it into the fire. As he
did, the pig began causing havoc once again and San Antonio proclaimed that
if they wanted him to calm his pig, they had to return his staff. This they did
and with one soft touch the pig was calmed.
Having reached the end of their tether, the demons demanded that San
Antonio and his pig leave the Inferno and they passed through the door of Hell.
Unknown to the demons, the saint’s staff was soft and dry in the middle which
meant that flame could not be seen in the wood. As he reached the surface of
the earth, he raised his staff and waved it above his head so that sparks flew
in every direction. And from that time on, there was fire in every hearth
around which people sit telling stories on those long winter nights. As for
San Antonio, he and his pig returned to his simple life in the desert, having
given fire to the world.
In the islands of the Balearics, where the tale appears to have
originated, the fiesta is marked by locals dressed as devils and demons dancing
around fires set in the streets. In Jaen in the south, up to 30 fires lit all
over the city with dancing and singing fuelled by much wine and pork sausages
whilst Catalonians, who often say that there is no party without fire, also
mark San Antonio with fires and in La Granadella, some 25 kilometres south of
Lleida, they are burnt throughout the night next to the shrine of Sant Antoni.
Closer to home, the town of Canals is said to build the biggest fire of them
all in honour of the saint, almost 20 metres high and 12 metres wide at the
By comparison, the burning of the pine tree in Jávea is a modest affair,
a ceremony that slips by almost unnoticed by most of the population. It begins
early in the morning of the weekend closest to the feast of San Antonio which is
on January 17th unless that feast day falls on a weekend. A “despertà” – the first of the year – is the traditional
wake-up call that reminds the townsfolk that they are in fiesta mode. A modest
group of adherents, usually from the “CAE El Tiraset” equestrian group, will
process through the old town accompanied by music which is often provided by
the simple “dolçaina i tabalet”, the traditional Valencian instruments of a
small double reed instrument similar to an oboe and a small drum. The music
merely complements the thunderous cracks of the indispensable bangers that
shatter the relative peace of the narrow streets, ringing of the old walls and flowing
like waves through the town. Newcomers will leap out of their beds and take to
social networks to deplore the practice; those more experienced will perhaps
place a pillow over their ears for a few minutes or simply shrug off the
cacophony of noise as part and parcel of living in the town. It is fiesta after
Later in the morning, members of El Tiraset will begin to prepare the
special pine for the burning that evening. This begins with the dragging of a
specially-prepared tree through the old town by hard-working horses not unlike
English Shires; those unaware of the tradition may well sit outside the cafés and
bars in surprise as the tree passes them by. The destination is a rough square
to the south of the town where the shrine of San Antonio sits amidst garages
and workshops; it is sometimes called ‘Plaza de San Antonio’ but few people,
even locals, might know it by that name. Throughout the day, the tree is stripped of its branches and the trunk
placed upright into the ground, a process that involves much advice, plenty of
wine and accompanying music. The branches are then placed around the trunk to
create a tall natural pyramid of pine in the middle of the square, decorated with
colourful bunting and prepared for the burning that evening.
As night falls, a crowd will have gathered around
the pine tree whilst curious onlookers peer down from the main
road above. It all seems quite disorganised yet several 'festeros' wander
around the crowd dishing out cake and small plastic glasses of local sweet wine
as everyone waits for bonfire. Without much warning, a string of fireworks
bursts into life, an explosive fuse that flies through the darkness towards the
tree which, having been doused with a suitable amount of flammable liquid, bursts
into flames. The music rises to a crescendo as the dark square is lit by the
inferno, the crowd inching away from the heat. Sometimes there is music played as the fire roars, throwing bright
orange sparks into the night sky. Firemen are on hand to prevent the inferno
from sliding out of control, spraying down the dry ground around it. Once the
branches have burned away, the trunk stands alone in the darkness, defiant
against the flames for as long as possible until it finally succumbs and
collapses to the ground to the cheers of the crowd. As the flames die down, the
crowd drifts away for dinner.
The following morning , the “festeros” gather
in the square. The image
of San Antonio Abad is placed in the wooden cart ready for the
procession through the streets of the old town and the port. The procession of
animals, wooden carts and, most importantly, the image of San Antonio Abad set
off on the parade, kids travelling in many of the wooden carts down the hill to
the port and then back up to arrive at the large Plaza de la Constitución.
San Antonio Abad is patron of many things, including amputees,
gravediggers and epileptics, but he is probably most famous as the patron saint
of animals, domestic or otherwise. As the procession arrives in the square,
they will find it filled with animals of all shapes and sizes, from dogs and
cats through to birds and insects to horses and snakes, all waiting patiently
if a little noisily for the annual blessing by the town’s priest. It’s a long process but a joy to watch as each participant walks in
front of the stage to be blessed with holy water; they also receive a little
snack and a card with the image of San Antonio and the words of the blessing
written in Spanish as well as a chance to enter a draw to win an image of San
Antonio Abad. As the early afternoon draws on, the blessing concludes and the image of
San Antonio, which had been placed on the stage beside the priest, is loaded
back onto the decorated cart and makes its final journey back to its niche.
This is a fiesta that
is divided into two distinct parts. Whilst the events
in the town are probably those which are best known
- and maybe even best attended - there are special celebrations
in the port zone on January 17th, the feast day of San
Antonio Abad which are organised by Penya La Burrera.
The day opens with a modest procession through the streets
of the port zone with traditional 'dulzainas' and drums
before the faithful gather for a solemn mass at the
iconic Loreto church. At its conclusion, there
is another modest procession with the image of San Antonio
Abad to the port square where the priest will bless
the animals as they pass by, the great headland of San
Antonio in the background: see if you can spot the shape
of San Antonio in its cliffs.
There is also a special
month-long funfair, normally located in Avenida Palmela
opposite Mercadona, which is known as the 'Porrat
I Fira de Sant Antonio', a 'porrat' being
a traditional Valencian celebration which originates
to those working in the field honouring the saints to
ensure good harvests and the fertility of their working
animals and thus the celebrations which are held in
the port and old town. The funfair is popular and has
a special evening with special prices.
2020 PROGRAMME - SAN
12:00 - Parade by the Fiesta
Commission "Penya La Burrera" through the
historic centre and the port with dulzaina and drums.
17th January - SANT ANTONI
09:00 - Parade
by the Fiesta Commission "Penya La Burrera"
through the streets of the port with dulzaina and drums.
- Solemn Mass in the Loreto Church. Afterwards, procession
with the image to the port sqiare for the blessing of
18:00 - Hot chocolate for all the children
at the funfair in Avenida de Palmela.
18th January - CREMA DEL PINO
12:00 - Transfer
of the pine tree from Plaza de la Constitución to Plaza
San Antonio with CAE El Tirasset.
20:00 - Burning
of the pine tree in Plaza San Antonio; snacks and mistala
for everyone attending.
Sunday 19th January
- Gathering of horse and carts ready for the procession
through the streets of the historic centre and the port.
- Blessing of the Animals in Plaza de la Constitución.
24th January - CHILDREN'S DAY
17:00 - Special
prices at the funfair in Avenida de Palmela.