It is a few years since we went to the Pilgrimage of San Marcos and I thought we may do it again this year but unfortunately it falls on the same day as I am committed to attending a K9 event in Costa del Silencio. The pilgrimage is held each year in Tegueste on the Sunday closest to April 25 and marks the start of “the season”.
The festivities start by choosing the “Romera Mayor”, a sort of carnival queen and there are a multitude of events including Canary wrestling, fireworks and a concert in the Plaza that lead up to the actual day of the pilgrimage. On this day, the massive influx of people seems to confirm it is one of the most popular celebrations on the island, the side effect is monumental traffic queues that form from early morning.
An hour before the true shin-ding begins, which is the bit us heathens really want to see, there is mass and the image of San Marcos Evangelista is placed in front of the square to bless the pilgrims, livestock and carters.
This year 26 wagons and floats decorated with the natural produce of the countryside will participate, accompanied by the tantalizing aroma of grilled meat, wrinkled potatoes and boiled eggs. The main feature of this romería is the generosity of the wagons that throw food to the crowds that line the route. So with 26 mobile sources of give-away food and booze, I thought it would be a particularly good feast or should that be fiesta! Some bystanders deftly use hats and baskets to increase their chances of catching the fly food.
Along with the procession there is the historic Dance of Flowers a folk event whose existence can be traced back to the 16th century. The dance is done by dancers, all impeccably dressed in white with plumed hats that have different coloured ribbons hanging down the back. It is testament to the idiosyncrasies and cultural heritage of the Tegueste people. The dancers carry a pole with a crown of flowers on the top and they dance around it to the beat of drums and castanets.
Boats accompany the procession and are part of the culture, I don´t know what but they have been there for years and years. These sail smoothly along pulled by oxen.
After the procession, the feast continues throughout the afternoon with the blessing of the livestock and offerings to the saint, consisting of an assortment of farm produce.
This isn´t however, a fiesta just for the lovers of tradition – the pilgrimage of San Marcos attracts thousands of young people, most dressed in traditional costumes, that party in their own way, capturing events on their mobile phones and transmitting in real time to social networks around the world. They share everything not just music, food and joy.
The final act of the fiesta is a bonfire: a rag doll made from straw and old clothes represents a public figure, which is burned to the shouts and cheers of the public. The bonfire is a ritual way of returning to everyday life. So hours after they arrived, crowds of people with full stomachs and glasses of local wine in hand start to migrate homewards. There are parties like this in many countries, but none with such good cheer and such good food.