SPAIN // Fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepcion

One of the things I love most about travelling is the opportunity to learn about and witness customs and traditions unique to the area I'm visiting. For many Western countries, few times of year are more shrouded in tradition than Christmas, yet even within Europe conventions vary hugely from place to place.

Situated on Spain's Costa Blanca, Torrevieja is a town largely populated by tourists and expats - a mishmash of British and Scandinavian cultures clustered along the coast - and, for this reason, it's not exactly my favourite place in the region. It came as both a surprise and a delight on my most recent visit, then, to discover the local Spanish community hosting a series of traditional pre-Christmas events at the beginning of the month.

Known as the 'Fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepcion' the programme of events recognises the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary in the nativity story with a number of blessings and celebratory activities - from the sombre to the downright ridiculous - for all the family.

Events kicked off on the evening of December 1st with a parade of the 'Gigantes y Cabezudos' (literally 'Giants and Bigheads') which set off from the Church of the Immaculate Conception accompanied by a large crowd and small wind band. The local characters of Lily, the wolf and the ogre were represented as giants, dancing their way along the street while followed by children covering them with cans of white foam. Honestly, I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but we joined the lively procession for a while and it was hilariously good fun!

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Not quite as much fun, however, as the event which took place the following day!

A long-standing tradition in many parts of Spain, the practice of bull running is considered - not surprisingly - highly dangerous and pretty darn unethical today. Not wishing to lose this piece of Spanish heritage completely, there's a comical solution to maintaining the custom: inflatable bulls!

In a strange reimagining of a Pamplona-style stampede, crowds of children wearing red neckerchiefs were chased through the streets of Torrevieja by performers in enormous bull costumes. Concluding at the Paseo Vista Alegre, groups of children took it in turns to "fight" the inflatable bulls inside an inflatable ring, complete with matadors and inflatable ambulance. It was completely absurd yet utterly brilliant! See the videos below for my attempts at capturing some of the goings-on. 

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I headed back to Scotland on the 3rd of December and so missed the remainder of the programme, which featured more giants and bigheads, a paella competition and a contrastingly solemn floral offering, where the facade of the church is beautifully adorned in floral gifts. 

At the end of the celebration, the town's annual Belén (nativity scene) is unveiled to the public, with models of local landmarks incorporated into the scene. I had a sneaky peek through the covers a few days beforehand: it was beautifully detailed, but I was disappointed that the traditional Caganer ("The Crapper" - ask Wikipedia!) was nowhere to be seen!

The Spanish celebration of Christmas is so different to the British one and I would love to experience more, particularly spending Epiphany (or 'La Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Mages') - on January 6th - in the country someday. 

Local customs and traditions fascinate me and I'm so glad I got to witness these in all their ridiculous glory. Poco loco!


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