Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Unmovable Feast Of Sebastian

Remember November 2001? If not, let me remind you. There was freak cold weather in the middle of the month and there was also the hurricane. The weather caused havoc with the island's most important fair.

Weather can occur at any time. Inca's Dijous Bo wasn't a complete victim as some of it was held indoors. But a fair is there to be held outdoors, unless the weather gods decree otherwise. Which they did in 2001. The fair, most of it therefore, was cancelled. Some events are just too complex for them to be rearranged.

The recent bad weather has created havoc with fiesta scheduling, but it is possible to push much of it to a later date. Something that wasn't postponed was the big Palma night out for Sant Sebastià, but the weather was hardly conducive to creating the type of party that was hoped for. As a consequence, there is talk of holding Sant Sebastià at some other time of the year.

The councillor for youth affairs, Aligi Molina, has said the proposal for a date change is "most interesting". It may well be most interesting, but the general reaction is leave well alone, with the mayor, José Hila, to the fore in insisting that there should be no change.

Hila has had his run-ins with Som Palma (Podemos) before over fiesta scheduling. Last summer, Eva Frade (citizen participation) said that all of the Christmas/New Year occasions traditionally held in the Plaça Cort would be moved because of building work. Oh not, they won't, said the "pact", i.e. the mayor. In the end, Eva got her way, and only the Standard festival survived.

It is therefore notable that Hila should react as quickly and as assertively as he has in heading off any further Som Palma claim on fiestas. Sant Sebastià, he said, is a winter fiesta. The town hall can't do anything about the weather. At no time has the administration planned a move for the fiestas. That's the whole administration, he was implying, including Molina.

It might be tempting, given the Podemos philosophy, to think that shifting Sant Sebastià would be an example of thumbing a nose at religion and the church. Tempting, though probably not accurate. Or it may be a case of if something is fixed (as in the date), then break it, which might also be in line with Podemos radicialism. No, not even that. Rather, it's all a question of the weather.

There are dates which aren't fixed. Easter is the most obviously movable feast, and its movement means that other celebrations have to move likewise: Carnival, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. This doesn't particularly help when it comes to scheduling, not least for tour operators, who would probably welcome the the pope fixing the date for Easter, as he has suggested he might. But everyone's been dealing with its movability for eons and has got used to therefore never being certain when Carnival is.

Everyone has also got used to fiestas taking place on the same day (or more or less the same day with some fiestas). And Sant Sebastià is one of them. Given that he officially became Palma's patron back in the 1600s and was supposedly and finally killed on the orders of Diocletian on 20 January 287, there isn't a great deal that can be done about the date.

But the problem has long been, therefore, that Palma doesn't have a summer fiesta. There are fiestas in different parts of the city, but notwithstanding the night of fire for Sant Joan in midsummer and the lame attempt at celebrating the Virgin Mary's birth in September, there isn't a summer spectacular.

No one has as yet made a firm proposal of an alternative and later date for Sebastià, and it's highly unlikely that if anyone did, it would be followed up. But a further reason, other than just the weather, has been put forward for a move, and this has to do with Sant Antoni. It is thought in some quarters that there is confusion because they are only three days apart and that aspects of Antoni have entered Sebastià, such as the demons.

While it's true that the two can seem to merge into one and so it isn't entirely certain which saint a particular bonfire might be for, it is a bit of an overstatement to say there's confusion. After all, the two saints have been at it for centuries. As for the demons, they are an Antoni legacy which is shared by all manner of fiestas, and not only Sebastià. The argument isn't strong.

But a big summer fiesta for the Virgin Mary, well that's a suggestion that should be considered. It would be a fiesta in addition not instead. Summer and winter, and winter, as in January, is where Sebastià belongs, as does Antoni.

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