Pagan Winter Rites in Cantabria, Spain

La Vijanera de Silió

I am going to take break from the Roman themed posts that I have most recently done. Now that we are fully into the winter season, there is much to cover on the intangible cultural traditions of the winter festivals that I have covered over the years. This year I am going to begin with one that I have been neglecting to visit due to its popularity, La Vijanera of Silió. Despite its popularity with tourists, it is one of the most beautiful and visually striking of all the winter festivals. In fact it prides itself as being the first carnival of Europe in the calendar year as it occurs on the first Sunday of each new year. Located in the mountainous interior of the Autonomous Region of Cantabria, the beautiful town of Silió provides the ideal setting for this parade of characters wearing animal pelts, masks, plant material, and bells. Having a cast of dozens of characters, perhaps the most important of them is the Bear. The rambunctious Bear terrorizes the participants and visitors, but is constantly pursued, beaten and finally captured and killed.

Believed to be of Celtic origin (though later fused with pagan Roman and Christian beliefs), the entire spectacle plays out like a theater of sorts each year representing the cyclical need of defeating the evil spirits of winter and protecting the fertility of livestock and the villagers. In this defeat of evil, it is believed that nature will be renewed with the ever increasing longer days of sun.

Sources: www.vijanera.com, Freger, Charles. Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage. Dewi Lewis Publishing. 2012.

All images Copyright © Kyle Hearn, All Rights Reserved

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