B-Holidays approved: The Feast of the Bear, Saint-Laurent de Cerdans

B-Holidays approved: The Feast of the Bear, Saint-Laurent de Cerdans

This traditional Catalan event gathers all generations during a fascinating weekend, in honour of the traditional bear hunt. On the first few days of spring, young Pyrenean men used to hunt bear to show they were brave, taking advantage of the bear’s frailty, induced by hibernation. Nowadays, since bears are no longer present in the Pyrenees, a young man from the village plays the part of the bear in a memorable spectacle which you should definitely not miss!

An old tradition

The young man, dressed up as a bear, comes out of hibernation and leaves his cavern at 3pm at the top of the village. Then, the chase begins! The animal is pursued by a group of hunters, led by a leader. However, the bear regularly slips out of view and takes advantage of his temporary upper hand by wrestling with the locals before resuming the chase. We stress that no harm comes to the people who take part in the bear wrestling. The chase goes on before the bear is finally caught by the hunters. Then, the leader recites the Predica de l’os, a Catalan poem reminding how dangerous the bear is and how brave the hunters are. A human circle is formed around the bear, and everyone dances around him following the Catalan musical rhythm named the cobla. The bear tries to escape, unsuccessfully. In the village square, the bear is shaved and given a human appearance. After feigning injury for a few minutes, the bear stands up as a human. He invites a lady to dance in order to respect the tradition, and the festivities begin.

Friday for the children

The weekend begins on the Friday, with the bear hunt being toned down so that the children can join in and enjoy. The proper hunt takes place on the Sunday. The light-hearted chase is a chance for families to spend quality time together. The participants are usually dressed up as a hunter or a lady to honour the two main characters of the tradition.

Carnival on Saturday

Once again, all generations are brought together during the carnival, a festive occasion where each one decides which costume suits him best. In 2017, we noticed several Rastafarians, Teletubbies, Marios, Disney characters… to name but a few! A parade is organized followed by the carnival ball that takes place in the village sports hall, where several Catalan songs are played, including El tio-tio, enjoyed by parents and children alike. El tio-tio is a traditional dance where you aim to set fire to a sheet of paper attached to the person in front of you. The Monôme and L’estaca are also traditionally sung by locals.

The main characters on Sunday

On Sunday, several notable characters follow the bear from the village. The first one is the Monaca, a creature bearing two bodies, two heads, four legs, four arms. Do not stare at her; otherwise you might incur her wrath! Other characters include the Figuérettes, who squash figs on the faces of the men present, whereas the Botifarrons try to spread black pudding on the women. Some of you might be lucky (or not, depending on your tastes) to be caught and put in wheelbarrow to drink some muscat al porró, in accordance with the Catalan tradition. Last but not least, the women may come face to face with the Escalfador (a stove in Catalan), who is in charge of protecting their virginity by spreading an unpleasant smell on their legs. All of these quirky features make the Feast of the Bear a truly unique weekend that will stay with you for the rest of your life.