In Murcia, Spain, the three-day long Entierro de la Sardina, also know as “Burial of the Sardine”, celebrates the end of Lent, and the welcome return to a less abstemious lifestyle. Beginning the Thursday following Easter and culminating on Saturday with setting fire to an enormous papier-mâché sardine, the event also includes parades featuring with various of mythological creatures.
Throughout the weekend, classic popular characters such as El Gran Pez, a fish-headed mascot, wave from eccentric and colorful floats flanked by musicians, scantily clad dancers, acrobats, of course, in true Murcian style, lots of food and drink, and more. Spectators most anxiously await Saturday evening, when participants known as sardineros toss toys and sweets to excited spectators from their illuminated and funny structures. The Sardineros all have mythological names, so it is possible see Vulcano, Neptuno, Ulises, Eros, and Herculo throughout the week, and their floats echoing their names. It’s incredible as youngsters run around with enormous carrier bags where picking up anything they can get hold of from the sardineros. Once the parade passes, everyone heads to the Plaza Martinez Tornel, where the enormous crafted sardine is set aflame. The act effectively buries the sardine’s grip on dietary habits during the meat-free fasting days of Lent, when fish is the only permissible protein.
The fiestas date back to the mid 19th century when a group of young students decided to carry out a celebration similar to those which they had seen in Madrid, part of which was the ceremonial death of the sardine, including the reading of his last will and testament. Yes, is strange, but celebrations involving the burial of a sardine are quite commonplace in Spain, and symbolizing an act of cleansing. Legend pins Murcia’s ritual of Entierro de la Sardina on a group of students parodying Lent’s repressive prohibition on meat-eating, often symbolized by the ascetic figure Doña Cuaresma. While the ultimate triumph of the fun-loving and gluttonous figure “Don Carnal” over Doña Cuaresma’s imposed abstinence remains an implicit (and symbolically Christian) part of local traditions, the festival is also known to be part pagan: in fact some floats are named and modeled after mythological Roman figures like Apollo and Neptune, all representing the event’s pagan undertones.