A Saint, Gigantes and Cabezudos... OH MY!
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
In the United States we have pretty basic holidays. The 4th of July, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas are pretty big holidays. There is Memorial Day and Labor Day and we have holidays I call "floaters", the holidays we know exist but forget and we are reminded of them from the evening news the night before said holiday because the dates change every year or they come and go without a lot of commotion.
The number of holidays here in Spain do not surprise me as much as they did, but they still creep up on me without warning, They usually appear disguised as Patron Saints ordering the village shops shutdown. Everyone dressed in his or her best are given a reason to be merry and celebrate, many with foes they do not speak to the rest of the year, during the verbena, one big party in centre village at sundown. Dancing, singing, a modest Carnaval setting, Galician bagpipes, drums and tambourines and wine... lots of wine.
Local bands on makeshift stages sing covers from the current top 40 list with poor sound checks that usually have echoes ricochet in the surrounding mountains. Smoke billows from tents- the BBQ for the evenings usually overpriced churrasco, a platter of chorizo, white sausage and ribs. Steam from 20 liter pots of boiling water cooking up octopi non-stop throughout the night, half a dozen at a time, makes the usually chilly air balmy. Inflated castles with current popular cartoon characters never fail their installation. They lure the kids in herds and the buzzing plea to their parents, grandparents or just about anyone ,sounds like a mantra, for a token for 15 minutes of endless jumping in a cage-like setting.
Santa Maria del Campo, Our Lady Of The Fields, the Patron Saint Festival of Ribadeo. This year we did not have the Pregon, the pyrotechnic announcement that lights up the Villa at night and has the River Eo glow with the reflection of the firework display in the sky for almost an hour on the eve of our celebration. We do not have the evening verbena, no food tents nor the Carnaval for the kids; but A Saint, Gigantes and the Cabezudos made their Pasacalles as they always have since 1868.
Santa Maria del Campo, Our lady of the Fields, is the patron Saint of the Villas Parish, St. Francis. The church was once a Franciscan Convent abandoned in 1835.
Reminiscent of the image of the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria del Campo depicts a rural image holding golden sheaves of dry wheat. To date, I have not been able to get a concise narrative of who is Santa Maria del Campo and what she represents. Many say she blesses the fields and the crops, but I thought that was Saint Isidore the Labourer, May 15th here. Others say it is the blessing for no one to go hungry in the winter, I think that may be Saint Nicholas. Whatever the reason why Santa Maria del Campo is the Patron Saint of Ribadeo, one thing is true, she is adored by young and old. During her procession, after a morning mass, there is respectful silence. She is placed atop fresh clippings of seasonal flora on an ornate golden platform and is paraded through the streets on the shoulders of her most devoted. The older folk whisper prayers I don't understand and children are wide-eyed, not for the Saint but for everything that immediately follows.
Gigantes, The Cocos:
The Gigantes, or best known here as Coco and Coca, two hollow, metal doll structures over 3.5 meters tall. They represent the residential archetypes during the Belle Epoque in Ribadeo. They are placed in front of Saint Roques chapel throughout the year, as if they are guarding the once grand street and stately homes that line the Rua, but during the fiesta they come alive. They dance, they twirl like Sufis in suspended animation with their contagious joyful, playful display of energy to all who encounter them on the streets and plazas of the villa. Dressed in period clothing, Coco in black tie adorned with a Medal of Order, Coca elegant in fine lace and embroidered silks, wearing her best jewels. This year with a new accessory, a face mask.
Cabezudos were introduced to our local fiesta in 1898, they are human scale with a large heads, usually made of papier-mâché. Early in the tradition of the Villa they represented Coco and Cocas children. In folkloric text they are eternal, immortal, intelligent, processing great charisma. Their mission is to spread joy although sadness tortures their heart. They will chase after people pranking them, or to simply have them smile, however they know when to stop and comfort a frightened child.
It is also said the Cabezudos represent the Cocos illegitimate children, reason why Coco has curls framing his forehead, making reference of being a Cornudo, his wife, Coca, having multiple infidelities. The characters have been altered throughout the years, the originals were O "Pataquiero, someone who will be emigrating to the Americas in search of his fortune, A Vella, the old lady, some say the Meiga, a witch, The Rat representing the cheater, The stereotypical poor villager, representing class divide, The Clown representing the fool, and The Policeman representing public authority.
Originally the Cabezudos would incite children to shout " Morreu Papa, Morreu Mama", father has died, mother has died towards the end of the Pasacalles as a signal. The Cocos will have to be toppled over so those making them alive would be able to crawl out of them. They will once again become lifeless.
When WW1 broke out in Europe soon after the Spanish Civil War the tradition of the Gigantes and Cabezudos ceased by the oppression caused by a post war.
It was recuperated and slowly reintroduce in the 1960s. New characters were added; Popeye, Laurel and Hardy and it has evolved into a more contemporary festival since, but one thing never changes, A Saint, Gigantes and Cabezudos offer faith, security and spread joy despite having sadness in their hearts.
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