Corpus Christi in Sitges







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The Feast of Corpus Christi in Sitges, Corpus Christi en Sitges

The Feast of Corpus Christi in Sitges includes various traditional elements: floral carpets in the streets (I helped to make one of them), carnation exhibition, giant puppets and dancing eggs. The restaurants offer a flower menu that looks like an avant-garde artwork.

Sitges is a small, charming town in the autonomous community Catalonia, 30 km south of Barcelona. ​In the sixties, it was the epicentre of Spain’s counterculture movement, it became famous as the residence of artists, weirdos and later also of the gay community. Shallow beaches, rich nightlife, luxury boutiques and a number of local festivals attract more and more visitors, hotels spring up like mushrooms after rain and their prices keep rising. However, those in the center are low-rise, each in a different style or a pastel color, with white ornaments or round balconies, and thanks to this diversity, the cosmopolitan Sitges still preserves a cozy, bohemian atmosphere.

At 9 am on Saturday morning, when I got out full of expectations, the city was sun-drenched.

Most of the people were still sleeping up after the night-lifing, only the street vendors on the seafront were already preparing their goods. They put on the counters funny t-shirts, jewelry, shoes, but also homemade cheeses, sausages, cakes with marzipan flowers and hot turnovers filled with meat and vegetables whose aroma could be smelt from afar. The Passeig Maritim promenade was solemnly decorated - among the palms, the nets full of carnations hung and some stalls were also embellished with bouquets.

The important part of the festivities was The Cactuses and bonsai exhibition and The Exhibition of Carnations, typical for the region, in the El Retiro Gardens. Suddenly I discovered that poor flower, whose red variety is mostly famous as a symbol of socialism, exists in many other shades. I saw one-colored and multicolored ones. I admired apricot cloves, butter blooms with pale-pink or purple margins and loved dark purple and greenish ones. A lot of restaurants, bars and windows was decorated with carnations too and some women flaunted carnation earrings.

There was also the contest for the best-adorned balcony, so the façades were flooded with flora. Those who had already won a prize in the past, proudly exhibited memorial tiles on the walls of their houses.

The children got involved too, they colored the paper flowers with watercolors and then, dirty all over, they installed them on the city hall's door bars.

In honor of the Feast, in one sweet shop they offered yoghurt ice cream with rose petal jam or  sprinkled with crystallized violets. For lunch I had the ,,menu de flores”. They brought me a hot duck liver in a round bowl, decorated with yellow and purple petals of wild pansy and a few slices of warm hazelnut bread. It looked like an avant-garde artwork, it was a pity to eat it. For a drink, I went to the Casa Bacardí bar where is the exhibition about the history of the brand and its connection with the city. Facundo Bacardi Massó, who established it in 1862, was born and raised in Sitges, later he emigrated to Santiago de Cuba. There he opened a distillery and after many experiments, he managed to produce high-quality refined white rum, which today belongs among the most consumed in the world. The famous bat from the logo has its own statue on the promenade.

In the afternoon, I walked through the shady streets of the center, decorated with Catalan flags. Sitges is known for its easygoing lifestyle and bohemian attitude. Even though today it is also a popular family resort, it is still possible to meet here some eccentric people. Muscular men in miniature gold shorts or a guy with a blown out hair who walked three similarly combed poodles with red bows. Well, the dogs have to match their master :)

The date of Corpus Christi, the Catholic Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is a moveable feast, held 60 days after Easter Sunday. In each country, they celebrate it in a little different manner. In addition to the aforementioned events, local traditions also include parades, procession and beautiful floral carpets.

At 6.30 pm, six big puppets came out of the Town hall and walked slowly down the street. Each of them was surrounded by a bunch of men. The giants took a few steps, and then started spinning like crazy; their cloaks and empty sleeves flew around their body and slapped the spectators. It looks like fun, but it is not. A Gegant is five meters tall and weighs 90 kilos. Paper mache or plaster head is attached to the frame of wood or aluminum and covered in clothing. One guy gets under a long dress, raises the structure and goes as long as he manages. He can hardly dance with hundred kilos on his shoulders so he just rotates. The other members of the carrier team walk around him and often alternate while paying attention that the puppet does not fall. At first glance, it seems that they just get underfoot, but when the carrier got dizzy and a heavy colossus nearly fell into a crowd, they caught it in time and prevented the massacre.

Almost every Catalan city has its giants, who depict historical figures, sovereigns or Moors. The Sitges Gegants are two royal pairs and one Moorish (it is smaller and carried by women).

The couples sometimes gallantly approached each other, twirled, then pattered away with small steps. I had to laugh when I noticed how the king in dignified long velvet robe scurried with his feet in white sneakers.

Puppets were accompanied by several bands, each played something else - folk music, Spanish songs or melodies inspired by Arab motives.

The giants left the crooked streets and headed to the modern part. In the meantime, people with the boxes of flowers began to gather in the center, ready to make catifes de flors, flower carpets, through which the Sunday procession would walk. It is said that in 1887, Arcadi Mas, the artist from Barcelona, painted the The Corpus Christi Procession in Sitges with the streets covered with petals, but it really did not begin until 1952. For the decoration, they use about 150,000 pieces of flowers, especially carnations, imported from Colombia, but also gerberas, chamomile, coffee beans, cones, twigs, nuts, grass, leaves and sawdust.

The tearing of petals is a social event for Sitges residents. The streets were crowded with groups of sitting volunteers, who plucked flowers, chatted and ate pizza, determined to work deep into the night. You can imagine their excellent neighborhood relations, also because this is for them not the only opportunity to collaborate. I asked if I could join and people willingly moved along to make a space for me beside the cases of yellow carnations.

They explained me the know-how - you just twist a lower green part and a blossom falls apart. I tore the heads of carnations and felt like a barbarian. The pile of fragrant petals quickly grew.

At 10 pm, drawers began to work. They had detailed designs on the squared paper and had to sketch them accurately on the pavements. Everyone had his reserved space, a pair of compasses, a rope and chalks. The carpets were almost in every street and they were really, really long, I was sure they will not finish them before Christmas. When I walked around the city for the first time, everyone crawled on all fours, but after midnight it began to take shape, some even started to lay the flowers over the pictures. Small children, who in my country would have long been asleep, helped too. Well, the Catalans, loving celebrations of all kinds, obviously have to get used to night-lifting since childhood...

On Sunday morning, most carpets were finished; people kept working only on the longest one. Colorful designs attracted many people from Barcelona; ​​ the town was crowded. The inhabitants of Sitges created a wonderful piece of work. A little girl with balloons smiled in front of the town hall, I liked also the yellow-pink birds, the jolly clowns and the Little Prince. But perhaps the most beautiful were daisies, sprawled from the center almost to the sea...

Another Sunday attraction that belongs to the Corpus Christi tradition in Catalonia is L'ou com Balla, the Dancing Egg at the Romantic Museum and the Palace of the Moor King (Palau del Rei Moro). They put an empty egg on top of the water spout of the small fountain and let it jump on it. It flies, skips and rotates, surrounded by miniature droplets which glitter in the sun like pearls. The fountain is adorned with flower wreath, so that the egg does not fall out - because if it keeps turning, it is a good sign for the coming period. If it drops to the bottom of the fountain, the stream will bring it up again and people are happy and take pictures with it. The origin of this habit is not known, it is said that in the 16th century, the Franciscan priest saw a dancing egg in Italy, and after return he suggested to do this ritual in the cathedral of Barcelona. From there it ​gradually spread further.

In the afternoon, another cercavila took place - a parade during which people from the balconies showered the puppets with flower petals. After, the well-dressed locals began to gather in front of the church of Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla on the rocky ness above the sea. At 7 pm, a solemn Mass began and a number of little children waited for their first holy communion.

When it was over, almost the whole town participated in the final procession. At the head, the gegants walked, this time they passed straight over the carpets and the tender petals flew around them. Colorful pictures were destroyed forever.

Girls in white dresses and boys in suits followed, then music groups and l'Àliga and el Drac, the Eagle and the Dragon with carnations in the jaws. These sculptures belong to the local folklore, on other occasions their mouths sparkle a fire. The peculiarity of Sitges culture is the Moixiganga dance, which, in fact, is not a dance at all, the members of the group perform different religious scenes. Here they created almost a gymnastic composition, they carried crucified Jesus on their shoulders.

The next came the priests with the cross and richly decorated stretchers with statues and tabernacle, and finally the faithful with candles. The procession silently wended its way, in the darkness I saw dozens of moving lights heading back to the church.

When the tabernacle got inside, the puppets went to the square in front of the Town hall and danced for the last time. Once the band on the right side played, then on the left side, as if competing, who can make it louder. The giants were rotating madly, as much as they managed, until they almost fell. Then the men under the skirts swiftly switched and again circled like whirling dervishes, cheering each other, while the heavy velvet mantles blew around them... Even the audience shouted, clapped and jumped.

It lasted for nearly half an hour, then the gegants bowed, carefully avoided a power line and set out for the Palau del Rei Moro. There the men brought a ladder, took off their clothes and removed their hands. Then they put them on the tables as for surgery and one of them knowingly dug in the ,,intestines” and separated the head. The feast was over, the puppets will rest for a few months.

When a breeze came from the sea, the flower petals flew in the wind like snow and shortly there was no trace of them. But who cares, Sitges will surely find another reason to celebrate...

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