The fiery Spanish tradition you won’t believe

The correfoc, or fire run, takes place at festivals throughout the Spanish summer.  Fire-throwing devils fuse with eager crowds in apocalyptic processions.  It is particularly popular in Catalonia, where hundreds gather in the narrow streets to play with fire.

Unlike in the US and UK, Spanish crowds don’t stand behind red tape at “a safe distance” from the fireworks.  In fact, in Spain, the whole point is to get as close as possible to the fireworks.  In Barcelona, for instance, the ultimate daredevils sit before the advance of the fire-throwers, daring each other to stay until the last hair-singeing moment. Pyrotechnics here are an interactive experience: you come to dance with fireworks and taunt fire-throwers and you hope to get lightly charred.


Equally high on adrenaline are the gleeful bands of devils.  These neighbourhood groups (known as colles) intersperse the crowds, dressed as monsters and demons.  Rather than pitchforks, these groups are armed with an array of firejets, to spray the locals’ hopping feet below, and spinning crackers, to create a canopy of light above.  If the crowds survive this attack, they are rewarded by a final spectacle of giant monsters and fiery man-high wheels.


Almost more overpowering than the explosions are the drums.  Accompanying the fire demons are hellish drummers, who pound rhythmically through the arterial streets: the rhythm fusing everything into one.  As well as adding to the air full of recklessness and smoke, their beats also function as instructions for the dispersal of fireworks amongst the devils.

Although this tribal mix of fire and drums feels virtually primal, the fiery tradition isn’t as old as many believe.  Actually, the correfoc is a mere monster child of the late 1900s.  It morphed out of the medieval street theatre known as The Devil Dances.  The Devil Dances originally performed the Christian fight against evil to watching crowds, until the real dare-devils began to interact with the actors.  The resulting blurred lines led to the chaotic immersion of today’s fire run.  Nowadays the Catholic roots are somewhat lost:  the correfoc feels more like a rave in hell than a religious sermon.

In spite of this primal and terrifying sensation, the Fire Run is virtually unheard of beyond Spain.  America’s 4th July fireworks are infinitely more famous and yet, in comparison to the Fire Run, they are about as exciting as glow-worms.  Only the hellish nightmare of the Fire Run can make you feel truly alive.

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