On Wednesday my entire high school took a field trip. It wasn’t your typical visit to the Exploratorium or a wastewater sewage plant (why did we do that in 9th grade, budget cuts??) Instead, we all hiked up a mountain to a small hermitage to partake in the religious festival of Santa Águeda.
February 5th is the day of Santa Águeda (Agatha of Sicily), one of a billion saints in this Catholic country but one who enjoys a particularly large celebration. I have asked many many Basques why they celebrate her so faithfully while other Saints’ days pass unnoticed, but none could give me a good response. My theory is that such an early date in February is a perfect way to simultaneously cheer on January’s end—with 27 days of rainfall this past month, I could easily appreciate the need for a bit of song and dance. The story of Santa Águeda is rather peculiar: Supposedly, a governor asked the woman for her hand in marriage, because she had the best breasts around (religious love is so poetic). She turned him down because she wanted to remain a virgin. So naturally, the governator chopped off her breasts. Those aren’t cookies she’s serving in the picture above. She is now the patron saint of breast cancer patients, as well as martyrs, bakers, and earthquakes (go figure), and small cookies in the form of nipples are sold in stands all over.
Most people in Spain today are Catholic in name only. While I’m not one for religion, I can appreciate the fiestas, especially when they count as my official working hours. The sun made a grand return to Bilbao as we climbed to the top of the mountain, where my jolly colleagues and I proceeded to watch traditional Basque dancing, eat talo (a typical food here for fiestas, similar to a corn tortilla with a link of chorizo or morcilla, blood sausage), toss back a few glasses of txakolí (Basque white wine), and stuff ourselves on pastries made especially for the occasion.
(Please excuse the poor quality of these photos. I had wine in one hand and blood sausage in the other….things got tricky.)
I may not be entirely clear on why we celebrate this day in particular, but I have no doubt that eating and drinking and being merry with colleagues—on top of a pastoral mountain, no less—is something to add to the “pros” list for teaching English in Spain.