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Mallorca and dimonis: a centuries-old tradition

01/02/2021

If you’re ever in Mallorca in mid-January, let yourself be swept up in the magic of fire, music and dancing of the nit mágica or nit bruixa (“witching night”) of 16th January, the Eve of Saint Anthony’s Day. A night when passions are unleashed and the feeling of belonging to the island is affirmed, when you can experience one of Mallorca’s oldest popular festivals, which is also one of the closest to the hearts of islanders, first-hand.

 

But where does this tradition, with such a dark central figure, come from?

On Mallorca, the festival surrounding the relationship between Sant Antoni (Saint Anthony) and the devil goes back to the 18th century, and draws on ancient ceremonies around fertility, crops and the protection of animals. Sant Antoni is the protector of the island’s peasant farmers, and the devil represents the temptations the Saint had to overcome.

Looking even further back in the past, historian Antoni Gili believes that fire wheels, dancing in general and round dances are reminisences of fire rituals officiated by shamans and witchdoctors to celebrate the drawing out of the days, and representing the strength of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.

 

Which is why bonfires are lit, with the romantic aim of connecting to primeval humans, whose customs were unsullied by civilisation. Fire symbolises the rebirth of the sun that fertilises the earth. In many villages the ceremony of leaping over the fire is still performed, to musical accompaniment.

On this magical night, rooted in antiquity, dimonis (demons) emerge from their “dark hiding place” to throng in the squares of many a village in Mallorca, and perform their dances around the fire. In places like Sa Pobla, Manacor, Capdepera or Artà, this is a very long-standing celebration which has boomed over recent decades. There are currently more than 50 groups of dimonis on the Balearic Islands.

 

Traditional music is at the heart of all the celebrations – the dances of the dimonis, the ancestral singing to the sound of a rumblepot called the ximbomba (*), coupled with the popular dances that customarily accompany these festivities. One very popular activity is the singing of erotic songs on this witching night and some historians say that many years ago this festival may well have ended in an orgy.

 

On the 17th of January, the feast of Sant Antoni Abat (Saint Anthony Abbot) - the patron saint of animals - and the day of the Mallorcan peasantry, most of the island’s villages hold ses beneïdes, blessings in which thousands of people take their animals to receive the holy water of Sant Antoni and in some villages, such as Felanitx, Es Carritxó, S’Horta… (not far from our hotels) floats depicting rural Mallorcan themes are prepared. Those taking part wear traditional attire, and there are two essential figures: Sant Antoni and el dimoni, the devil. The participants generally pay tribute to their patron saint by singing, dancing or reciting a few gloses (**) or improvised songs (verses on the theme of the fiesta, which are often satires on current political, social or economic events).

 

 

This extremely valuable cultural expression brings us closer to our ancestors, who worked the fields and led an extremely austere, yet noble and beautiful life, in complete communion with nature and the seasons. One could say that we experience this festival as a kind of journey into the past, identifying with the feelings of those men and women of old.

 

Make your booking at one of our Inturotel hotels on Mallorca. We will be delighted to tell you more about this and other original traditions from our region! ¡Visca Sant Antoni!

 

 

(*) “ximbomba”: An ancient musical instrument, a friction drum comprised of an earthenware pot with a round neck and a hole at the base. The top is covered with a skin that is perforated in the centre, through which a cane is passed. When the cane is massaged with a wet hand, the pot acts as a kind of sound box, producing a rumbling roar.

 

(**) “glosa” On the Balearic Islands, this is a kind of rhyming oral composition, normally improvised at the time of declamation.

 

 

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Live the spirit of Christmas in Mallorca
15/12/2021
Live the spirit of Christmas in Mallorca
In our villages (as in many places across Europe) the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is upon us. The lights are lit, Nativity scenes are being finished off, choirs are rehearsing their carols, bakeries are preparing the traditional cocas and turrones, and you can sense the children’s excitement… Christmas in Mallorca means celebrating with family and friends and enjoying the little things in life like our traditional food, long conversations at the table after eating, lovely walks in the countryside, relaxing by the crackling fire, getting the house ready for receiving guests and sharing gifts, giving happiness, love, companionship, smiles, serenity… in other words, good times that will become memories to be treasured forever. We want to share with you some of our favourite traditions from this time of year.      A Legendary Nativity Scene The Nativity scene, manger scene or crib has its origins in the Middle Ages. The first Christmas celebration where there was a Nativity scene took place on Christmas Eve in 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi decided to recreate Jesus’s birth in a cave near the hermitage at Greccio (Italy).     Mallorca is home to the oldest Nativity scene in Spain. The beautiful crib scene dates from 1480 and has been attributed to the Neapolitan sculptors, Pietro and Giovanni Alamanno. At the time Naples was the birthplace of this craft. The cities of Palma and Naples share a common history that goes back to the thirteenth century, which is when the story of this ancient Nativity scene began.   Its Gothic sculptures are from a period in which cribs were only depicted in the form of paintings or altarpieces. It consists of 15 original pieces: Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the sheep, the dogs and a pair formed by the ox and donkey. The remaining pieces were added in later periods.      There is an aura of legend around the arrival of the Nativity scene on the island. Hanging next to the chapel where the Nativity is now displayed there is a painting, now almost blackened with time, but which at one time depicted a boat, which serves as a clue. The chronicler, Francisco Bordoy, describes how in 1536 Captain Domingo Gangome was lost with his ship in the middle of a great storm opposite the Bay of Palma. In his desperation, he promised God that he would give one of the seven Nativity scenes that he was carrying on board to whomever helped him reached land. Just then he saw a small light twinkling in the darkness. It came from the monastery of Our Lady of the Angels of Jesus.     This celestial lighthouse meant he was able to guide his ship to shore. To show his gratitude he donated one of the sets to the monastery, unaware that it was the most valuable of all the Nativity scenes that he was transporting. This is how it ended up in a modest church in Palma de Mallorca. More than two centuries ago it was moved to La Sang Church, where it is on display all year round.     Some other Nativity scenes that are also worth a visit in Palma are Cort, Ses Caputxines, Palau March, Centre Social Sa Nostra…     Not as old but of exceptional quality because their originality and the amount of work that goes into them are the Nativity scenes in the town of Felanitx, which is very near our Inturotel hotels. You can start at the one by the Casa de Cultura (created by the craftsperson who won last year’s prize for the best Nativity scene), and there you can collect a map that shows the location of the different Nativity scenes that you can visit. Don’t miss a trip to the parish church of San Miguel, in the daylight the pinkish colours and intricate stone carving of its façade are extremely beautiful.   La nit de Nadal (Christmas Eve) Christmas Eve is a magical night that the whole island experiences with emotion. It is a night when we join with family around the table, after participating in the sumptuousness of a festivity whose origins have been lost in time. This is the celebration of the liturgy of Matines (Mallorcan Midnight Mass or Matutinum in Latin) which was once celebrated at midnight and originally before the dawn (at 6am).     Although not all those attending this religious service are believers, many are drawn by a very special performance, the Song of the Sibyl. These days it is usually sung by a woman dressed in a beautiful gown, holding aloft a magnificent sword, but originally it could only be sung by the clergy or children.   The Sibyl was a prophetess from classical mythology who foresaw the end of the world. She was introduced into and adapted to Christianity thanks to the simple analogy between her prophecy and the idea of the Last Judgement in the Bible. The Song of the Sibyl is a liturgical drama with a Gregorian melody that spread widely throughout southern Europe during the Middle Ages. The first documentation about the Song of the Sibyl in the Cathedral of Mallorca dates from 1360-1363. The oldest version with music and lyrics written in Mallorcan is in a choirbook of a fifteenth-century convent.   Mallorca and Alguero (in Sardinia) are the only two places in the world where the song has survived as a tradition stretching from the late Middles Ages to the present. UNESCO placed it on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 16 November 2010.   If you have the chance to visit Mallorca at Christmas, we recommend you check the different times of Matines in the churches of Felanitx. A particularly special service because of the ancient music that is played live is held in the Church of Sant Alfons.   After the spiritual and/or musical enjoyment, a lovely family dinner awaits, rounded off with a delicious hot chocolate with a coca de Nadal. Scrumptious!     If you would like to discover more about how we celebrate Christmas in Mallorca you can stay at one of our Esmeralda Villas FREESTYLE by Inturotel, now open all year round and which offer complete comfort by the sea, the Mallorcan sun and all the peace and quiet you deserve.   Let’s make these Christmas holidays a reason to take it more slowly, be more mindful and think about what makes us happy… we’ll probably find the answer is making other people happy.     Bon Nadal i Bones Festes! ¡Feliz Navidad y Felices Fiestas! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!          
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