It started with a witch burning and ended on the 5:40 AM train back to San Sebastian.
This was my Friday night.
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Starting from May till the end of September every pueblo (little town) has it’s fiesta weekends. Last weekend it was in Beasain.
Our friend Nicole lives out in these parts, so Gemma and I ventured out to the small town to partake in their weekend celebrations. Talk of witch burning and bar hopping had our ears perked and we soon arrived ready to take part.
We dropped our things off at Nic’s, ate dinner, and meandered down to the town center. It was 10:30 and the crowds had gathered: young and old alike. The drums sounded and the “witch children” started coming into town — ready with torches.
The story goes: Once upon a time there was a witch who lived in the mountains. She came into town and fell in love with one of the Beasin men — so they married and he moved to the mountains. They had many children and the townspeople didn’t like it. So, they marched into the mountains and killed the witch for stealing their man. Or so the story goes — more or less.
Pushing through the crowds, the “witch’s children” arrived in the center, performed a traditional dance and then lit the bonfire. Screams and cackles followed as the “witch-mannequin” flew in from the mountain before being dropped into the bonfire. The crowds cheered.
Gem and I shared glances and uncomfortable giggles before saying how awkward and uncomfortable this entire tradition made us feel. But this was happening. A Friday night witch burning.
But oh, no, it wasn’t over yet. The witch wasn’t dead — she appeared in a window and rambled on in Basque before wishing the townspeople a happy festival! Exactly.
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The rest of the evening we bounced between the bars, dancing, and raising our glasses to the festivals. By 5AM we began to feel weary and gathered our things before running to catch the first train back to the city. After falling asleep, missing our stop, and walking a little extra back to our beds — we realized we had officially survived our first witch burning in Northern Spain.
Who knows what the other towns festivals will bring, but they certainly have quite the show to live up to. I’m ready, Pais Vasco — let’s see what you’ve got.