Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi 2018

Diablos Danzantes

Devils parade through the streets, shake maracas and beat drums. It looks like all the evil came out from Inferno to mischief and have fun among people. But no, in fact, it is Venezuela’s one of the biggest catholic holidays – Corpus Christi, renowned all over the world for devil masked frantic dancing.

The idea of the festival is to celebrate the victory of good over evil. However, the festival’s old-century tradition, Diablos Danzantes, makes an impression as if dark forces defeated good, but not vice versa. Nowhere in the world, you will find an analog to this holiday and for a good reason, Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi became recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

THE HISTORY OF DANCING DEVILS

There are different stories of how this festival emerged. Some people believe in the myth about the San Francisco de Yare brotherhood. According to that myth, hundreds of years ago there was a priest without a penny to hold the procession of Corpus Christi who said: “If there is no means nor believers to carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession, then the devils come!”. After a storm, several devils show up in front of the church. Since then in San Francisco de Yare, the tradition of dressing up as devils and dancing through the streets has appeared.

Another version, which tells about the roots of the holiday is probably a more realistic one. Historians claim that devil dancing procession originates from the combination of a Spanish religious ritual and some traditions of African slaves, that were brought from their native land, to sweat on cocoa and sugar plantations for Spanish masters. Indeed, if to analyze Diablos Danzantes with its hypnotizing drumbeats, flashy costumes and wild dancing in huge masks, it reminds a bit Festima (The International Festival of Masks and Arts) in West Africa, world-known for its eccentric mask performance.

Diablos Danzantes

Nowadays old-century tradition evolved into a huge celebration that takes place through the eleven neighborhoods in central coastal regions of Venezuela on the 9th Thursday after Holy Thursday. The traditions of celebrating Corpus Christi differ in every region.  For example, in Naiguatá, a town in Vargas, the dancers don multi-colored costumes with masks usually representing marine animals. The main specialty of the celebration in this town is the right of women to dance with men on equals, while in other regions it is strictly prohibited. No doubts that the town  Naiguatá hosts a breathtaking celebration. Other towns, like Cata, Cuyagua, Turiamo, Chuao, Patanemo, San Rafael de Orituco, Tinaquillo, San Millán can boast about not less exciting, and eye-catching festivities too. However, the biggest celebration, the most impressive and annually swarmed by myriads of tourists, takes place in San Francisco de Yare, in the state of Miranda. This event is definitely worth visiting.

Diablos Danzantes

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM DANCING DEVILS OF CORPUS CHRISTI

The celebration commences on Wednesday the day before Corpus Christi with a meeting of the Devil Dancer’s Confraternity. Dancing devils gather for dancing and blessing ceremonies and prayers to protect the men and young boys who will take a part in the procession from bad lack, evil powers or any spiritual harm. Dancers are also known as “promeseros” (from Spanish “pledgers”) because they make a pledge to dance on Corpus Christi for a certain number of years or for the whole life. By dancing, people ask God for a favor, for instance, to cure their family member of long or rare disease or the one that put at risk the life of a person. When the sun comes up, the streets are filled with the dancers in red extravagant robes with accessories such as scapulars, crosses,  rosaries and of course elaborately made handcraft masks depicting devil. They parade through the city, playing mischief and dancing around to the tunes of Venezuelan cuatro (small guitar which has four strings and resembles a ukelele), maracas and drums. Closer to the midday, the masked prankish devils congregate in front of the church. There you will see the spectacular performance. In front of excited crowds, devil dancers pretend to attack the church and fight with guardians. Again and again, devils attack, but each time they are repelled. Finally, after a row of unsuccessful attacks, the devils accept defeat and kneel in front of the Eucharist to show obedience and respect. Such an ending shows the main meaning of the holiday  – the Triumph of Good over Evil.

Diablos Danzantes

Diablos Danzantes

DOS AND DON’TS AT CORPUS CHRISTI

DON’TS. Do not stop yourself from visiting Corpus Christi because of the stereotypes about Venezuela imposed on society by social media. Yes, Venezuela is not the safest place in the world, however, it does not mean that you will become a victim of a crime as soon as you cross the border of Venezuela. Just follow the simple rules: do not walk late at night through the dark street and do not abuse alcohol partying in local bars and clubs.

DOS. Do contemplate the performance of Diablos Danzantes. Do celebrate with locals and get acquainted with their unique culture and traditions.

REMEMBER, that every country can be dangerous, we are not protected from some twists and turns of our life. You never know what will happen to you next minute. However, there is no a bad country or a bad city. Every country, every city and every festival is a separate chapter in the book known under the name “Planet Earth”. “Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi” is another chapter in this book and can be another chapter in the story of your adventurous life.

On Thursday, 31st May 2018, you are welcome to visit the Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi, which is not simply a religious holiday, but an embodiment of strong cultural identity, reverence to ancestors, traditions, and history of Venezuelan people.

Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake 2018

Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake

There are so many hilarious stereotypes about British people, some of them true, but most of them are false. And when the whole world sees British as reserved, tight-lipped and calm, I can argue about it. I will prove the British are not emotionally dead, they can be upset, excited and even crazy. Don’t believe me? Then check out one of the weirdest events in Great Britain — Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake. When normal people eat cheese, British roll it down from the cliff-like hill, running to catch it as if it is made from gold. The coolest fact about this festival, that this cheese insanity is contagious, as people from all over the world annually come not only to watch but to take a part in this competition.

The origins of this event are not clear. Most of the people believe that it originates from pagan rituals of celebrating the arrival of spring. However, nowadays, people are more focused on the very event, than its roots. In 2018, it will be held on 28th of May, traditionally in Brockworth, United Kingdom.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM COOPER’S HILL CHEESE-ROLLING AND WAKE

Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake

 

The cheese madness starts at 12 pm, but we recommend to come much earlier, in order to get a nice spot where you can contemplate this event. The center of the whole festivity is a 9 pounds of round Double Gloucester cheese.

As soon as the cheese is sent rolling down the hill, contestants start running down Cooper’s Hill in the chase after round Double Gloucester cheese. The aim of participants is to survive and to catch the cheese. We say “to survive” because this round cheese may reach the speed up to 110 kilometers per hour. Trying to get it, people fall, stumble or fall head over heels through the uneven rough ground, with very often numerous injuries in the result. That is why there were attempts to prohibit the event, but locals protected their old-century tradition, and instead of disappearing, this event gained even more popularity. Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake has been held for many years and the only thing that has changed, for the reasons of safety, is the cheese which since 2013 is replaced by a foam replica. At the end of the competition, the lucky man crosses the finish line and wins the cheese, but a real one, not its replica.

As far as you understood from our vivid description above, this race in pursuit of cheese is definitely not for the faint of heart, but only for brave or who is out of his mind. Though, if you want you can easily participate, without any registrations and preparations, all you need to do is to show up and say that you came to get that cheese. And, by the way, not only men can take a part in cheese race. Usually, there are five downhill races( four for men, one for women), and also one uphill race, but the number of races and the timetable varies from year to year. Anyway, before taking part in this insanity, think three times, don’t overestimate yourself and don’t underestimate the tricky steep hill. We will remind you one more time that this traditional British competition never goes alone, but with a host of bruises and scratches, if you are lucky, and if you are not, then with the dislocated shoulders, twisted ankles and a number of broken bones. The whole day during the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake can be perfectly summarised as ” twenty young men chasing a cheese off a cliff and tumbling 200 yards to the bottom, where they are scraped up by paramedics and packed off to hospital”. That is how the author of The Sydney Morning Herald described the renowned cheese race in his article “Return to edam”. Nevertheless, we don’t have an intention to keep you away from participating in Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake. We just want to tell, that watching this astonishing event is not less thrilling experience than participating in it.

Instead, we suggest you come and see everything with your own eyes and understand what people risk their lives for. We suppose some people do it for fun, others in order to have what to say to grandchildren or simply to brag, of course in case they won. For locals, it is a legacy from their ancestors, which they cherish and protect for years. And what do you think about Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake? Don’t hesitate and go for your next adventure in the picturesque village of  Brockworth.

Valborgsmässoafton (Valborg) 2019

Valborg

“In the meadows our dreams will ring
And the winds will sing our songs.
Let us leap over the fires with the sparks
On Walpurgis Night!”

On the last day of April, when the sun goes down, the door to another world opens. This is a night when spirits walk between people when the air is filled with magic. People are dancing around the mountainous bonfires, which are the embodiment of cleansing power from bad luck; a source of energy, protecting people from evil forces, warding off malevolent spirits and witches. At the same time, this night symbolizes the gate through which the spring and warm days come. People call it Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgisnacht, Witches’ Night) or simply Valborg.

HISTORY OF VALBORG

The name of the festival originates from the 8th-century missionary Saint Walburga (Saint Valborg), well-known for her fighting against sorcery and witchcraft, establishing the Catholic convent of Heidenheim in Germany and promoting Christianity in Europe and especially in Germany.  However, Saint Walburga has never been commemorated in Sweden. Catholic Mass on her day is probably the only connection of Walburga with Sweden.

In fact, Valborgsmässoafton has pagan roots. It all started in the 8th century when on the advent of the spring Germans let their cattle to go out to graze in woods and fields. But to protect their livestock, to frighten the wolves, they used to dance around the bonfire, singing and making noise.  Naturally, that those times such a feast was considered to be paganish, so the Christian priests wanted to stop it. Nevertheless, it wasn’t prohibited but removed to Saint Walpurgis’ day, which evolved even into greater celebration. In Sweden, the tradition of igniting majbasor (bonfire) emerged in the 19th century, due to the German immigrants that came to the Uppland County. That is the brief story of how Valborgsmässoafton in Sweden appeared. But if you ask any Swede, most likely, he will have no idea who Walburga is and what the origin of the Witches’ Night is. The Swedes celebrate the arrival of spring and the approach of summer. That is the main purpose why they gather annually on the night of the 30th of April to frolic around the fire. Valborgsmässoafton celebration is barely connected to religion.

WHERE TO CELEBRATE VALBORG

Speaking of the modern Valborgsmässoafton celebrations, it should be mentioned, that they are not family occasions, but public events and municipalities usually take charge of construction bonfires creating the elated atmosphere. People all over Sweden gather to sing, dance and listen to numerous choirs. The large celebrations take part in Uppsala and Lund, which are known to be the major university cities. For students, Valborg is associated with freedom, last lectures, and approaching of anticipated summer. Students as well as people all over Sweden, start celebrating since the very morning with delicious breakfast, including strawberries and champagne.  The special event in Upsala that is annually swarmed by thousands of people is students’ boat race. So, don’t miss a chance to have a look at students competing in their homemade elaborately decorated and painted rafts on the Fyris River. When the competition comes to the end, students usually gather in Ekonomikumparken and simply let loose.

Valborg

Valborg

In Lund, the hotspot of the celebration is the town’s main park Stadsparken, where students party not worse than in Uppsala. What is true about celebrations in both cities is that students will guarantee you the merry atmosphere, good mood and a crazy revelry, accompanied by non-stop flow of beer and champagne. In case you want to relish some cultural events you may listen to orchestras, speeches and student choirs singing about the springtime. Choral singing is an inseparable part of the Valborg celebration and favorite pastime for many people in Sweden. On the Eve of Witches’ Night, all the chores in every part of Sweden are busy, singing their tributes to the spring.

Despite the festive vibes of Upsala and Lund, the greatest historical Valborgsmässoafton celebration takes place in the Skansen Open Air Museum,  Stockholm.  Witches’ Night in Stockholm is perfect opportunity to learn about ancient traditions of the Swedes, enjoy the singing of uplifting folk songs by Stockholms Studentsångare (a student choir). But the main charm of celebration in Stockholm lies in its ambiance. At dusk, when the bonfire is lit, people burst into dance, celebrating the end of dark gloomy winter and welcoming the sunny days of spring and summer. Although the fire helps to warm up, we advise wearing some warm clothes, as the spring nights are still rather cold. Another way to ward off freezing cold is traditional nettle soup.  And of course, no festival is complete without crackling fireworks.

Valborg

Valborg

ADDITIONAL INFO ABOUT VALBORG

It looks like everything is said about Valborg, but no. On the 30th of the April, you might also notice a lot of flags, not without reason. It happened though, that the birthday of King Carl XVI Gustaf falls on the same day as Walpurgis Night. Zillions of Swedish flags is the way people congratulate and show respect to the King.

And one more thing, it is mistaken to think that when the bonfire dies, the festivities are finished too. People go to the pubs and restaurants or join the boozy parties of their friends. Those parties proceed the whole night and the whole next day because the 1st of May in Sweden is a “red day” on the calendar. It is an International Worker’s Day, which is declared a national holiday in Sweden, giving people one more excuse to party and enjoy the life.

Finally, you can celebrate the Witches’ Night in other countries, like Germany, Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. But if you want to understand what the Valborg means for the Swedes, you have to come and experience it firsthand, blending in with locals in jovial celebration of spring.

Glad Valborg! Happy Witches’ Night!

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