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Las Luminarias: a fiery and controversial Spanish celebration

3 min read

Every year, on January 16, the eve of the festival of Saint Anthony, the people of San Bartolome de Pinares, in Spain, celebrate the holiday by riding their horses, donkeys and mules through piles of burning tree branches in a curious celebration called Las Luminarias.

The unique tradition of leaping over and through flames dates back 500 years, but men and women who live in the municipality located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León, north-west of Madrid, still celebrate it religiously.
Traditionally, they gather all the branches they find in the days leading up to the festivities, and when dusk falls on the eve of Saint Anthony’s, they light them ablaze.
Riders lead their mounts through the burning piles of the village, accompanied by sounds of drums and Spanish bagpipes.

Jumping through the flames is said to bring the animals the protection of St. Anthony Abad, acknowledged as the patron of domestic animals, ever since the Middle Ages, and locals believe the fire purifies their animals and protects them against illnesses, all year long.
This belief comes from thousands of years ago and, so that animals did not get unwell, the old priests would bless them with fires so that they would jump and be purified.

Of course, animal rights activists don’t agree the whole purification deal but, in a country like Spain where traditions like bullfighting, Shearing of the Beasts or Day of the Geese, they don’t have too many hopes of putting an end to it.

There is no logic in forcing these animals into a stressful situation against their own nature. In the midst of the 21st century, this is something from a bygone era. There is no superstition or belief that should justify an act of such cruelty,” Juan Ignacio Codina from the Observatory of Justice and Animal Defence, said.

However, the owners say their animals remain unharmed during the procession thanks to precautions taken by riders, including to cut their hair to avoid burns.
And, in fact, a few years back, the mayor of San Bartolome de Pinares told reporters that veterinarians checked the horses after Las Luminarias and couldn’t find a single burn mark, or anything else wrong with them.

You don’t even realize it. It’s like running your finger over a lighter,” explains a local.

Either way, one thing that even the more stubborn locals will agree with is that Las Luminarias has become more than a spectacle in recent years.
If before the shrubs and pine branches used to light the fires used to be much smaller, nowadays they are brought in by trucks with fires much bigger to impress spectators.

Images from web – Google Research

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