Many of Spain’s traditional festivals may seem strange to outsiders, but perhaps the title of most unusual would fall to El Entierro de la Sardina. Notably celebrated in Murcia, although similar events do take place in Madrid and other Spanish cities, El Entierro de la Sardina is the grand finale of the Spring celebrations.
El Entierro de la Sardina literally translates as the burial of the sardine, and is an occasion which has been marked for centuries. Like many of Spain’s best loved celebrations the origins of El Entierro are obscure. Some say that the event was created by 19th Century students who wanted to extend the fun of the Semana Santa fiestas. Others prefer to believe that the legend dates back to the reign of Carlos III. They say that the King planned to celebrate the end of the festival period with his people, and ordered sardines to be served. High temperatures caused the fish to go off, and they were buried to disguise the terrible stink. Whichever tale you prefer, El Entierro de la Sardina remains a unforgettable and unique festival experience.
One highlight of El Entierro de la Sardina is a speech from Doňa Sardina “Miss Sardine” which takes place on the night before the big event. A different Doňa Sardina (usually a local journalist) is selected each year to stand on the balcony of the town hall and read out the Last Will and Testament of the Sardine. Generally the speech has a slightly mocking note, mentioning well-known politicians, celebrities and local events.
The festival itself takes the form of a parade through the streets, attended by masses of costumed participants. Organised by a number of groups called Grupo Sardinero, the procession is loud and packed with high jinks. Decorated floats pass by the crowds, and small toys and sweets are thrown to passers by, adding to the cheer of the celebration. Dancing, music, fireworks and “big heads” all get into the mix making this one of the biggest fiestas in the Murcia region.
Then of course, comes the ritual of burial of the sardine. Usually represented by a large papier mache figure, the sardine is burnt, marking the very end of the Carnival period and the beginning of Lent.