I set out this morning to buy potatoes and onions but as I was walking towards the supermarket, I saw a suspiciously high number of people walking towards me carrying sprigs of rosemary. As none of them were gypsies and none tried to foist a sprig onto me I wondered what was happening somewhere in the town and decided to investigate.
I walked towards the historic centre of Alcala la Real and saw more and more sprigs of rosemary - I was going in the right direction and with my amazing powers of deduction, headed for the church. Crowds of people were queuing up outside the church apparently to get slices of cake - it became more and more intriguing! I looked around for signs of a funeral or a wedding but there were none, so I went inside the church.
There were a few folks towards the front and feeling brave I tiptoed up to see what was going on.
I was most surprised to see what seemed like two trays, on each of which were two small figures with capes on - and as I looked a little closer, I saw the figures blink and people were stroking them - they were pigeons! Obviously held in place somewhere under their clothing, with just their heads showing - they looked most unusual! I didn't have my camera but have dug around and found this image on some publicity information on an Andalusian website - I think you can just about make out the heads of the pigeons.
I asked someone what was going on and was told that 2 February is 'La Dia de la Candelaria' and that every year, a statue of the Virgin Mary is paraded around the streets in the morning and in the evening there are bonfires lit around the town. Actually, we saw a bonfire last night from our terrace and wondered what was going on but it was a bit late to go out to investigate.
The day celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary after the birth of Christ (bit like the 6 week check up!) - according to Jewish tradition, 40 days after giving birth, a women was considered 'unclean' - hence the rosemary which has cleansing properties.
I've come home and investigated a little more and the celebration ties in the Candlemas in the UK religious calendar and it's the day when candles in the churches are blessed. It's also connected via pagan roots to predicting the weather - if it's a nice day on Candlemas then watch out, winter hasn't finished yet. Interestingly, it also ties in with Groundhog day in the States, which again is about weather prediction - if a ground hog pops out of his hole on 2nd February and sees his shadow, he pops back again for another 6 weeks but if it's cloudy - he'll stay out! And people celebrate this period in many different ways - family ways (in my favourite 'Chickenblog'); and in Marsden, near Huddersfield, the period halfway between the winter solstice and the summer equinox and known as Imbolc, is celebrated with an annual Fire Festival. Interesting eh?
Well, I thought so! And in the end, I didn't have time to buy the potatoes and onions but had to go running to meet Romy and Ruy from school but I have learned something new today! And tonight, we'll go and see the bonfire - and I'll take my camera with me!!