THREE small towns in the Spanish Pyrenees are staging the ancient festival of Joaldunak to ward off evil spirits and to waken up the ‘forthcoming spring’.
The celebration is held annually on the last Monday and Tuesday of January in Ituren, Zubieta, and Lantz.
The event has been officially recognised by UNESCO as an invaluable part of Europe’s cultural heritage.
The exact origin of this celebration is uncertain, but it has many similarities to other events where masks and cowbells are the main elements.
It is believed to be connected to the ancient rites of changing the seasonal cycle and celebrating the winter solstice.
Bell wearers, or Joaldunak, as they are known in Basque, dress up in thick sheepskins and tall colourful hats, clanging large cowbells tied to their backs to scare away the bad spirits and the witches.
A shepherd holding the chains of a huge carnival ‘bear’ with ram-horn ears accompanies the Joaldunak on their march, taking swipes at the crowd and ordering the sea of monsters to step aside to let them pass.
Local residents fasten some silver thistle to the lintel above their front doors to ward off witches.
People cheer on the brave Joaldunak on their quest to rid the area of monsters – and of course welcome the long-awaited return of spring.
ALL IMAGES: Cordon Press