When I visited Alhama de Murcia a few days ago, I came for the Roman baths and the Archaeology museum. Stepping out into the lovely courtyard, I noticed two sculptures which clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with Roman or Arab history.
As I was the only visitor at the time, I was lucky enough to have a lady from reception giving me a private tour because she had nothing else to. Naturally, I asked her about these guys and that’s how I came to learn about a unique local festival I had just missed by a month.
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘they are Los Mayos’. Question marks in my eyes!! ‘You see,’ she continued, ‘in the first week of May Alhama celebrates the beginning of spring in a very different way than the rest of the country. Have you heard about Las Fallas?’
Indeed, I had. It’s the celebration in Valencia and Alicante culminating in huge fireworks and the display of giant effigies made from papier mache which are burnt in bonfires at the end of the night.
‘We don’t have these gigantes,’ she said. ‘We make Los Mayos, big dolls made from fabric, stuffed with straw and painted with individual faces. They represent real people and they carry messages written on pieces of paper they either hold in their hands or have pinned to their clothes. They are a sort of caricature.
These dolls are placed over night at houses and public places, so the population awakes on the 1st of May to a whole new set of ‘people’. The messages are funny, or express a wish or ridicule a certain attitude or quirk of someone. The dolls remain in place all day, are removed at night and displayed again elsewhere the next day. We don’t burn them, they even enter into a competition. But that’s not all. We also have the corremayos, musicians dressed in harlequin costumes who roam the streets all day, singing and making music, entertaining people. Then there is food and drink of course and a display of the beautiful huge crosses made from white flowers which are displayed at the church of San Lazaro. Pity you missed it, you must come back next year.’
I will. This festival doesn’t have a long tradition but it seems to be extremely colorful and certainly very different to the fallas. It’s also a festival mainly for the locals, but those tourists who are lucky enough to know about it and happen to be there at the time are made very welcome indeed.