We Indians love our festivals fiery and hazardous; old gals Diwali and Dussehra would vouch for this. However, we are not the only ones. Spaniards, it turns out, are pyromaniacs too.
What are we talking about?
Correfoc (fire-run), an open-air performance, is an essential part of celebrations in Catalonia (an autonomous community of Spain). People dressed as devils and other demonic creatures set off fireworks in the crowd because everything is more fun with second-degree burns. Jokes aside, imagine an unstructured parade of people either dressed as devils or carrying massive mean-looking dragons that move to the beat of hundreds of tambores (drums).
Every town imposes upon the Correfoc its own customs and traditions, thus lending the performance a unique flavour. The monstrous creatures that appear in a Correfoc are also peculiar to the town where it is held, a fail-proof strategy to localize children’s nightmares. (No more jokes, I promise.)
What is the story of its origin?
After Francisco Franco’s repressive rule (the military dictator took over Spain in 1939 after the Spanish Civil War) came to an end with his death in 1975, Catalonia, like other regions of Spain, underwent a revival to consolidate those aspects of its culture that had not been wiped out by Franco.
In Catalan folklore, devils, dragons and fire had always played a prominent role. In the Middle Ages, a dance performance known as Ball De Diables (Catalan for Devil’s Dance) was often presented during the interval of a long, dramatic work, the audience for which was made up of nobles. Ball De Diables presented theatrically the struggle between good and evil. Eventually, it was adopted by the Church and Ball De Diables started making appearances in religious festivities.
In 1979, the Barcelona City Council organized the first Correfoc (although it was not named so at the time). Over the years, Correfoc gained widespread popularity and eventually became an inevitable part of public celebrations.
When is it celebrated?
It has become so ingrained in the identity of Catalonia that every time there is a celebration of any kind, you can expect to see Correfoc. The most impressive Correfoc can be seen in Barcelona (one of four provinces comprising Catalonia) during the celebration of the city’s patron saint La Mercè on September 24th.
Deeming it a safety hazard, when the administration once attempted to step in and ban Correfoc, locals gathered to do a nude version of the procession as a means of protest. (There is a video online if you are curious enough to look for it.)
Photographs by Harsha Chaudhary.