It is a little known fact that, in Colombia, there are more festivals and carnivals than days in the calendar. As a traditionally catholic country, each town has its own festivities in which certain days are consecrated to the Virgin or a particular patron saint.
But not every celebration has religious roots. Festivals could also be held for ‘pagan’ reasons (or excuses) including the rain, a particular fruit of vegetable (i.e. potatos, onions, etc), animals (i.e donkeys or alligators) or just as an expression of the traditions of each region.
In March, the festivals and celebrations are mainly related to the catholic holy week (Easter). The most famous Easter celebrations are held in Popayan, a colonial city located in the Colombian Southern Andes.
However, there are other non-religious festivals happening in March as well, among the most popular we have the Festival de la canción llanera (The llanera´s song festival), held in Villavicencio and the Festival del Burro (The Donkey festival), held in San Antero, a town located on the Colombian Caribbean coast.
You might have probably read or heard about the Easter celebrations in catholic countries like Colombia but it is perhaps more unlikely that you have heard about the donkey festival before. The festival is dedicated to honour the hard work done by the donkeys that everyday help Colombian farmers with their activities. It is also a good excuse to get locals and visitors together to have fun and enjoy San Antero’s beautiful white sandy beaches.
The Festival of the Donkey started at the beginning of the 20th century, but not as it is known today. Originally a catholic Eastern festivity, the central event of the festival used to be a ceremony to burn a doll representing Judas Iscariot as a way to make him pay for his betrayal of Jesus. The Judas Scariot doll was carried by a donkey to the place where it was burnt. Over the years, the donkey slowly became the central character of the festival and the original ceremony became secondary.
Today, the festival is like Halloween for donkeys. The main event is a donkeys parade where each owner marches past with his/her donkey dressed in a particular costume. The costumes are designed by the owners and are usually representations of Colombian or world famous personalities or celebrities. The donkeys with the best costumes are crowned as the King and Queen of the festival. In addition to this parade there are also other activities to cover a total of five days of fiesta: concerts, street theatre, handicraft exhibitions and of course, a huge variety of the local gastronomy.
The Festival of the Donkey may not be extremely related to the holy week any more, but this matter little to the good people of San Antero, as long as they have an opportunity to get together and enjoy the best of their music, gastronomy and traditions. In Colombia, any excuse is good enough to throw a great party.
The Uncover Colombia Team
- Beyond Rio: Party and experience multi-cultural Colombian carnivals and festivals (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Carnival in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- San Antero Donkey Festival, get your ass there (repeatingislands.com)
Picture: Donkeys dressed in traditional Colombian costumes – Copyright: San Antero website and Colarte.com