Europe, Murcia, Spain

Entierro de la Sardina

April 23, 2022

Follow Easter week, Fiestas de Primavera begins in Murcia. For my aux friends in the city, that meant another week off from school. For me and my Cartagena-based auxes, we were back to the grind.

Two of the big events that occur during this week are Bando de la Huerta and Entierro de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine). Bandos is held on Tuesday and is filled with parades, gastronomy, and a traditional costume. I was not able to attend this day, but I was told it’s quite wild and with a lot of partying in the streets. I prioritized attending Entierro because it’s one of the top festivities in Murcia and after two years without it due to COVID, the energy and excitement was high. I spent the weeks prior to Fiestas de Primavera trying to understand the cultural significance of these events and how they operated. I felt like I have a pretty good idea, but I knew it was one of those things best experienced and understood in person.

A big question is: “Why a sardine?” I’ve gotten differing answers on this. What I do know from reading history is that it started over 170 years ago in 1851 when a group of students carried a sardine in a coffin after a carnival. It’s said to be a time to celebrate the end of fasting during Lent (and more specifically the common practice of not eating meat). Some other parts of Spain celebrate this, and they throw the sardine into the water for positive energy for the following year’s carnival. Although, this is a distinctly Murcian festival and a Festival of International Tourist Interest.

A 19th century journalist wrote this describing the very first burning of the sardine in Murcia:

A few Murcians, then young, among whom I have always heard mention Nolla, Carles, Ibáñez, Selgas, Gómez Carrasco, Marín Baldo, Ortiz, García-Esbry, Baquero and Peñafiel, surprised Murcia on the last night of carnival by appearing in its streets, in the manner of discipliners, with two black hoods, wind axes in their hands and forming a terrifying retinue that ended in a disformed coffin, in which, it was later learned, were the mortal remains of an unfortunate sardine. To the sound of a gloomy mask, they walked through the main streets, and then, forming a pyre with the torches, they burned the coffin.

José Martínez Tornel

While events were occuring throughout the entire day, knowing that the sardine wasn’t even scheduled until 1 AM, I decided that arriving around 5 PM would be good. I do not have the same energy for 12-18 hours of festivities like the Spanish seem to.

I met one of my friends from my Spanish class, Shayla, and her husband near the ayuntamiento in Murcia. We immediately saw the big sardine, ready to go and be burned for the 170th or so time.

We walked towards the center of the city where the cathedral is to meet some mutual friends and other auxes. Two of them were people that Shayla had worked with while teaching English in South Korea. There were people from four or so countries with experience living in that many foreign countries. These moments are always really interesting to me to share cultural experiences from our home countries, expat countries, and the positive and not-so-positive experiences that come from this life.

From here, a few of our companions headed in a separate direction, but five of us continued throughout the streets, stopping for empanadas along the way, and meeting up with some other auxes in Plaza de las Flores. These types of festivities are known for botellón, drinking and socializing in the streets. Typically, these type of public drinking is not permitted, but it is generally accepted by the community and law enforcement during these events.

Next, we checked the schedule for the Gran Desfile (grand parade) which would begin around 8:30 PM. Two of our companions would be taking the 10 PM bus back to Cartagena, so we tried to find a location where they wouldn’t be blocked from exiting and would be relatively close compared to certain parts of the route. Shayla had agreed to let me stay at her apartment so I could stay out and see more of the parade and see the sardine burning.

We were able to see the beginning of the parade, although it took about an hour for it to be more than just businesses, cars, and people handing out flyers. After sunset, the energy definitely amped up. There were a variety of colorful costumes, floats, and designs. Whistles are a common symbol that people carried around or even had costumes of. Thousands and thousands of toys are also thrown from the parades and people could be seen carrying bags full of them.

Around 10 PM, we were feeling a bit tired and hungry, so decided to walk back to their apartment for a break and grabbed some kebaps on the way. After an hour or so recharging, we headed back to catch the last bit of the parade and made our way towards where the sardine would be burned.

We were able to get a pretty good spot to view it, even after the crowds from the parade were pushed back by the police and a new set of barricades. The sardine was scheduled for 1 AM, although 1 AM came and went, and then 2 AM…. Finally, around 2:30 AM, the first spark was lit and the sardine was up in flames. It was about 20 minutes of lots of cheering, music, and a bit too much ash down my shirt and in my hair.

Next, we turned 180° to watch the fireworkers over the river. They went on for a surprisingly long time for fireworks, but they were beautiful and a nice end to the night.

We began the trek back to Shayla’s apartment, which was quite the feat with thousands of people squished together in the streets. What would usually be a half hour walk took about three times that. But, we made it, and I got a few hours of sleep on the couch before heading to my 7 AM ride back to Cartagena.

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