Traditions were very important in Spain. They still remain an important part of country life but have been mostly forgotten in the cities. The wearing of black is one of them. When someone dies the women wear black as a sign of mourning, the length of years required to stay in black depends on the closeness of the relation who died. If it is your husband then you are in black for life. So by the time a young girl reaches her twenties it is likely that she will be in black for the rest of her life because between two years for this uncle and five years for that sibling they all start adding up.
Another tradition is ‘La Matanza’. Every family under the law of Franco was entitled to their own ‘domingero’. A domingero is a small building and piece of land in the country with a place to keep your tools, feed for the animals and a kitchen big enough to entertain the whole family including granny and the cousins. It is here where you grow your vegetables and fatten your pig. The whole family contributes leftovers to fatten the pig and make sure it is eating the right kind of food to give the desired taste to the pork. The matanza happens once a year. It is a day that I try and stay inside because the whole procedure is rather gruesome. I am a vegetarian but I approve of this tradition because I feel that if you are going to eat meat you should know where it comes from and that is not a plastic wrapped package from the super-market. For the matanza the whole family unites for about twenty-four hours, eating and drinking the whole time. The men kill and prepare the pig. This means putting the pig on a huge wooden table, slitting the throat and draining the blood into a bucket to be used in the making of morcilla and the like. The sound is like something you have never heard before. Turre is a definite no-go place on the day of the matanza because all the tables are put in the street in front of the houses to wait for the pig. After they have bled the pig they take a blow-torch and burn off all the hair before hanging it from the ceiling in the living room so as to be able to cut it into pieces each to be used for a different delicacy. While this is being done the women start preparing the insides for things like sausages and sobreasada. Not one part of the pig goes to waste. The hams are hung for eating the next year. During this marathon no one sleeps because it is important to get all the parts of the pig used before it is damaged by the heat. The vet must be called to test the meat to make sure it is disease free. During this time big round loaves of bread are baked in a large dome-shaped clay oven, last year’s home-made wine, actually stomped by your own feet in a wooden vat, is brought out and the olive oil that you just got back from the olive press is used. The olive press is used by all the farmers. Each farmer is given a number of order where you are given a time and day, maybe even in the middle of the night, to bring your olives for pressing. This way you are assured to get olive oil only from your own olives. In exchange the olive press gets several liters of each person’s olive oil.
I don’t understand enough about Catholicism to understand this one but it is very impressive. One dark night on the first day of lent, the priest carries a sardine around all the streets in the town and the whole village follows behind him crying and wailing like the Moroccan women do. They all dress in black and carry candles. It is really very frightening the first time you see it. Then apparently they bury the sardine. It is a funeral. No one has been able to tell me the significance of this tradition.
Another is to hang a chicken from a wire in the plaza then the men are blindfolded and with a large stick try to hit the chicken. The one that kills the chicken gets to take it home for supper. This tradition started along time ago when food was scarce. It is sort of like a Mexican piñata without the candy. Many tourists complained and said it was disgusting but no one made them come and watch. This tradition has died out recently.
La Vieja is an interesting tradition. It is not an official holiday but no one is expected at school or work. The whole family, cousins and all, make a picnic and head for the hills or beach. The children take wooden crosses and make a paper doll over the top and fill the head with sweets. They call it ‘La Vieja’, the old lady. At some point during the afternoon all the children start throwing rocks at the vieja until she breaks open and then they eat the candies. I don’t know why they made it an old lady to throw rocks at. A great time is had by the whole family.
The Romeria is another family outing where everyone puts on their flamenco dresses and riding gear and either rides horses or rides in huge wagons all decorated with flowers like in a parade. The whole group follows a long route and ends up in a suitable destination where they eat a large paella. They stop at a few homesteads along the way and have refreshments.
The Lost Art of Hay Surfing
Every farm in southern Spain has something called an 'era' which is a flat dirt circle, I think called a threshing circle in English, where the hay would be put after being cut with a scythe. A wooden board with rows of knife-like wheels underneath was pulled by a donkey and driven with long-reins by the farmer. Weight must be applied to the board in order to cut the hay, hence the children. There are actually several different boards with different types of knifed wheels for each phase of cutting. It was a very exciting time for the children when the farmer called them to come and sit on the board while he went round and round. It takes several days to cut the hay into small pieces and release the grain from the stalk. It is a sticky job, in the heat you get covered in pieces of hay and it is a bit like a ride at an amusement park, bumping up and down it is a rough ride especially when the hay is in the center at the beginning, it gets to be a smoother ride as the hay gets spread around the circle. The board sometimes even flips over. No harm is done because you just fall into a huge pile of hay. You must watch your fingers though and can’t hold on to the board for risk if being cut by one of the blades. When the threshing is done you must wait for a windy day and with a naturally grown pitch-fork, you throw the hay in the air. These pitch-forks grow on a tree in the shape of a fork and after being whittled down a little make the perfect pitch-fork. On the windy day, and after hours of repeating this procedure of throwing the hay in the air, the cut hay is on one side of the era and the grain on the other, it is quite ingenious really, each to be stored and used throughout the year. I would like to have shown you a picture of the pitch-forks but ours burnt in the recent fire. We have an era on our property and across the street is an era that is shared by three houses: it is communal property and doesn’t belong to any one of the houses but to all three. It is things like this that make buying land in Spain difficult. For example a long time ago your grandfather may have traded a donkey for the large algarrobo tree on the corner of his property, the donkey is long since dead but the tree on your land now belongs to someone else.