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Berga's La Patum: All set for return of UNESCO-recognized festival of demons and fire

Some groups of performers turn 400 in massive northern Catalonia celebration to be held from Wednesday to Sunday

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13 June 2022 05:52 PM

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Guifré Jordan/ACN | Berga

There is hardly a more quintessentially Catalan street festival than Berga's La Patum. It has all the elements that shape a myriad of local 'festes majors' annual celebrations and other similar festive events: medieval origins, fire, demons, religious and pagan roots, folk music, and a party suitable for any age. 

Near the Catalan Pyrenees, Berga's heart will beat again at the pace of La Patum's Tabal, a drum that turned 400 last year – yet, its devilish sound will celebrate the anniversary of the first document that mentions it (1621) this year, since Covid prevented the 2020 and 2021 editions from going ahead. 

Thus, the iconic instrument will thunder with more energy than ever from Wednesday to Sunday – and the hundreds of volunteers who parade every year will dance in rhythm to the Tabal.

Everything is now set to enjoy the festival after the pandemic hiatus, but local authorities are wary of overcrowding especially because everyone has been waiting for so long and are more eager than ever. 

Mayor Ivan Sànchez calls on the public to exercise "caution." He reminds visitors that only 6,000 people fit in the town's main square, where the most iconic shows will take place on Thursday and Sunday night. 

Risk of overcrowding

Authorities know that those two nights are the most popular, because Sant Pere square becomes what may be closest to hell on earth, with hundreds dressed as demons firing up to 1,000 firecrackers at the same time, lighting up the place as everyone dances and jumps – yet, in order to prevent it from being too hellish, they have already said they are ready to close off the square to avoid overcrowding.

While the local council is somehow "scared" about what is about to come, restaurants and similar establishments cannot wait. Like every year, they are set to turn over between 25% and 30% more than a normal week. 

"We are happy that we will be able to refill the drawers that have been emptied during the pandemic," said Jordi Badia, president of Berguedà County Hotels and Tourism Association. 

Yet, it is unclear that sales will pay off for every restaurant. For instance, Frankfurt Berga expects to close at 1am instead of 6am like previous years. "In the old days we used to pay between €1,400 and €1,800 a month for the electricity bill, and last month we paid €5,400," explained Ester Olmedo, who works in the establishment. 

20,000 bottles of water given out for free

Indeed, bars and restaurants are much busier than usual, and this can also lead to a common issue in such street festivals: too much alcohol. 

The local council will distribute up to 20,000 bottles of water for free and will set up two bars offering non-alcoholic cocktails at €1 (at Plaça Viladomat and Plaça Cim d'Estela squares), hoping these are attractive alternatives. 

A 'Purple Point' in order to avoid sexism and sexual abuse will also be set up at Plaça Viladomat.

Recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage

In any case, the celebration will take place again, and Berga will show again why in 2005 the UNESCO included La Patum in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, featuring traditions and other intangible treasures of humankind worldwide. 

The UN specialized agency praised its uniqueness and artistic and historical value, and not many such festivals can boast such recognition, since La Patum was the first in Catalonia to get it – 'castellers' human towers and the Pyrenees' 'falles' were to follow a few years later. 

What is La Patum about, plus times

UNESCO was amazed at what La Patum is about: short and sweet, an ancient tradition consisting nowadays of five nights of a whole town united in celebrating, with 11 groups of people parading across Berga, especially in Sant Pere's square, accompanied by music, fire, and characters such as giants and dragons. 

On Wednesday and Saturday, some of the groups parade in a more localized celebration where most of the attendees are from the town. 

On Thursday and Sunday, Sant Pere's square is the main location for the celebrations – they are the biggest, the most iconic, and the ones attended by most people from outside Berga

Meanwhile, concerts by bands – mainly local groups – are the main events on Friday.

Traditional Catalan 'sardanes' dances, three masses, and the children's fireless Patum during the day are also a key part of the celebration. 

Not only the Tabal, but also some other groups such as the giants and 'guita grossa' turn 400 this year.

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  • Plaça de Sant Pere square during a 'Patum' celebration before the Covid-19 pandemic (by Nia Escolà)

  • Plaça de Sant Pere square during a 'Patum' celebration before the Covid-19 pandemic (by Nia Escolà)

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