10 Lesser-Known Traditions to Experience at San Fermín

10 Lesser-Known Traditions to Experience at San Fermín

You've heard about the bull runs and the bullfights, but what else does the festival of San Fermín have to offer? The answer is so, so much! 

There are quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of traditions that make up the Running of the Bulls festival, and most of these traditions are only known by locals. Taking a moment to learn about the lesser-known traditions at Los sanfermines will help you immerse yourself in the local culture and have a deeper appreciation for both the festival and the city of Pamplona. In no particular order, here are 10 lesser-known traditions at Los Sanfermines, or the festival of San Fermín!

1. Passing the Pacifiers: Towering giants called gigantes parade through the streets every morning during the festival, captivating audiences with their colorful costumes and dances. In Pamplona, it has become a tradition for toddlers to give their pacifiers to these gigantes once they no longer need them, which symbolizes an important step in growing up. It's a heart-warming tradition that all children are welcome to participate in - locals and tourists alike.

File:14 de julio día de despedidas (28903227627).jpg

2 Txistu Flute PerformancesThe txistu is a type of three-holed Basque flute that is played with one hand - leaving the other hand free to play a drum. This instrument, which resembles a recorder, has become an important symbol of Basque folk revival. Txistu flute music is also a crucial element in Basque folk dances: certain txistu variations instruct folk dancers to spin, walk forward, or jump while dancing. Traditional flute performances take place throughout the festival on Paseo Sarasate and at Plaza de San Juan, and you can also hear performances every evening at 9:00pm in the Plaza de Castillo.

Melodías de txistu en las calles de Pamplona - Txistulari

From Txistulari.eus

3. Garlic Garlands: In the 17th century, a new tax on certain vegetables in the Navarran town of Falces was met with strong resistance from local farmers. Garlic wasn't included in the tax, so many farmers decided to start only growing garlic in protest. These farmers were soon growing a surplus of garlic, so they travelled to Pamplona to sell their produce at the fiesta of San Fermín. This act created a new tradition that has lasted centuries: still today, many revelers at Los Sanfermines visit the so-called Plaza de los Ajos - the Garlic Plaza - to buy strings of garlic, which they wear around their necks while they celebrate in the streets, in bars, and at bullfights.

By José Luis Nobel (1968) from Patximendiburu

4. Aizkolaritza: Aizkolaritza is a Basque wood-chopping competition, which is a popular type of herri kirol (rural sport) that dates back to medieval times. In this competition, which usually lasts for over an hour, lumberjacks race to chop sections of beechwood trunks in half. It is a test of stamina enjoyed all over the Basque country, and it is one of the oldest ongoing traditions at Los sanfermines. You can witness this tradition in Pamplona at the Plaza de los Fueros almost every afternoon during the festival.

From Euskalherrikirolak 

5. Riau Riau: At 4pm on July 6th, Pamplona celebrates the "Riau Riau," during which tens of thousands of drunken partiers walk together from the Plaza Consistorial (Town Hall Square) to the nearby church, the Iglesia of San Lorenzo. The Riau Riau tradition began in 1911 as a coordinated effort to cause glorious, loud, drunken chaos in the city, and - according to local legend - to annoy the city hall officials, who were ceremoniously and somberly walking from the town hall to the church at the same time. Learn the lyrics to "La Alegría de Pamplona" to participate in this joyous tradition!

6. Txalaparta: The Txalaparta is a beautiful Basque percussion instrument played in pairs. The instrument is a platform composed of several long boards of different types of wood, and it originated as a board for crushing apples in the process of making Basque cider. In this process, thick sticks were used to pound the apples, and their rhythmic pounding was soon celebrated for its musical qualities.  You can frequently watch street performers play Txalaparta on Calle Mercaderes during the festival, particularly in the late mornings. 

 7. The dance of the Alpargatas: This lively social dance, which takes place immediately after the bull runs, is one of the most anticipated parts of the busy morning ritual for many Pamplona locals. The name translates to "The Espadrille Dance," referencing the name of the iconic rope shoes that many bull runners wore in Pamplona in the 19th century and 20th centuries . The dance takes place at the prestigious, invitation-only Nuevo Casino club, which overlooks the Plaza del Castillo; however, the event itself is anything but prestigious: it's a fun, communal dance that involves a little bit of everything from conga lines to quick partner dances. If you're really interested in seeing this traditional celebration, please let us know!

8. The Struendo: The cousin of the "Riau Riau" mentioned earlier, the Struendo is an unofficial event that takes place on an unannounced night at some point in the festival. Participants gather at midnight in the square just behind the Ayuntamiento, or town hall, with pots, pans, whistles, drums, and anything else they can use to make lots of loud noise. If you're interested in joining the fun, befriend locals to get the details on this year's Struendo

9. Las Dianas: Every morning between July 7th and July 14th, a small group of musicians from the city's talented brass band, "La Pamplonesa," walks through the streets of the Old City of Pamplona. Playing traditional instruments such as txistu flutes and tamboril drums, the Dianas act as an alarm clock for the entire city, waking up the townspeople in advance of the 8:00am bull runs. The tradition dates back to 1876, and it has become such a beloved part of the fiesta that it now attracts crowds of spectators, who walk behind the band and sing the lyrics to the songs they play. The band begins in front of the Town Hall at 6:45am and sets off on foot around the Old City, both on and off the bull run track, before finally finishing their performance in the bull ring at 7:30am.

La Pamplonesa - Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre

10. Silence during the July 8th Bullfight: Another lesser-known tradition at the Running of the Bulls festival is the silence observed during the first bull of the July 8th bullfight. At bullfights, the sun side is generally extremely loud and rambunctious, with lots of live music, singing, and dancing. However, during the first of the six bulls on July 8th, the peñas - Pamplona's social groups - remain silent in protest of an instance of police brutality that followed the bullfights on July 8th, 1978. On that day, after the bullfight ended, a group of 40 protestors flooded the bull ring arena to protest against the unjust imprisonment of Basque political prisoners, who were imprisoned under Franco's dictatorship and remained imprisoned in 1978 - three years after Franco's death. The political activism quickly resulted in a verbal altercation in the bullring. Policemen then retaliated with extreme force against the protestors, resulting in the death of a student. In an investigation of the attacks, the Interior Ministry admitted that 5,000 rubber bullets, 1,000 smoke bombs, 1,000 tear bombs, and 130 bullets were shot during the attacks. To this day, nobody has been tried or punished for the death, so the peñas unite in a silent protest against this injustice every July 8th. 

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