Beast-like figures known as Carantoñas return to Spanish town for religious festival

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It’s hours before dawn in Acehuche, a small town in Spain’s western Extremadura region, and a group of young people end a parade by setting off fireworks and beating drums.

Partygoers play drums and use fireworks to wake up neighbors during the ‘albora’ as part of the Las Carantoñas festival.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

The noise wakes locals up for some of the biggest dates on the local calendar: the three-day celebration of the furry characters known as Carantoñas, who look like wild beasts.

Men dress in goat skins
Men prepare before taking part in the Las Carantoñas festival in Acehuche, southeastern Spain.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)
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The men drink and eat before the annual procession.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

With roots in pagan fertility traditions that have been incorporated into religious symbolism, the ancient holiday currently marks the patron saint of Acehuche, Saint Sebastian, whom Catholic tradition regards as a martyr of the early anti-Christian Romans.

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Catholic worshipers gather during the procession.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)
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Women dressed in traditional clothing known as Regaoras and men dressed as Carantoñas gather in a procession.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

After the 2021 edition was canceled amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, the festival went ahead at the end of January this year. It took place under strict mask-wearing rules due to the record number of infections across Spain fueled by the highly contagious variant of Omicron.

The sculpture of Saint Sebastian is welcomed by salutations of honor carried by the faithful.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)
A man in an animal fur suit poses in front of a wall.
With roots in pagan fertility traditions that have been incorporated into religious symbolism, the ancient holiday currently marks the patron saint of Acehuche, Saint Sebastian, whom Catholic tradition regards as a martyr of the early anti-Christian Romans.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

Following tradition, women dress up as Regaoras with colorful embroidered skirts and shawls, decorating intricate hairstyles with flowers, while a few dozen men gather in a garage to cover themselves in animal skins and furs to turn into Carantoñas.

A woman dressed in traditional attire known as a regaora poses for a portrait during the festival.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

The handmade costumes can weigh over 20 kilograms and only male partygoers over the age of 16 are allowed to wear them.

A man dressed as a wild animal stands in the crowd at a festival.
A man dressed as a wild animal offers sweets as part of the Las Carantonas festival.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

On the second day of the celebration, as the image of Saint Sebastian is carried in procession on rosemary-covered sidewalks, the Carantoñas bow before the patron saint and the Regaoras cover the sculpture with confetti while traditional chants are sung and drums played.

“All the songs we play have been recovered by oral tradition,” said Jaime Garrido, one of the musicians.

“Some are common songs in the region and some are specific to this festival.”

A little boy walks next to a man dressed as a wild animal.
A man dressed as a wild animal and his son during the Las Carantoñas festival.(Photo AP: Bernat Armangue)

The procession takes on the figure of the saint to face a chosen member of the local brotherhood, who thanks Saint Sebastian for keeping the city safe and healthy for one more year.

With the sculpture back inside the church, a new figure emerges in the crowd outside: the Vaca-Tora, a monstrous figure with huge horns and an oversized noisy cowbell that blasts away at the both beasts and revelers.

PA

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