The First Sunday in May

This is the time of year when I most envy my friends who still live on Ibiza. At a time of year when the English weather is still unbearable, the weather in Ibiza is about perfect – warm, if not hot during the day, but pleasantly cool in the evening.

In Santa Eularia, everybody will be preparing for the first Sunday in May. For centuries past, on this day friends and relatives from the surrounding countryside come into Santa Eulalia on their traditional two-wheeled horse-drawn carts, and the tradition still persists. It is a “popular” rather than an “official” fiesta, which may have something to do with the fact that Santa Eulalia’s official Saint’s day is in the gloomy depths of February: Summer fiestas are much more enjoyable!

Many years later I found out more of the historical background to the event, and I cannot say that I am any the wiser. Once again, I am indebted to my friend Emily Kaufmann for her research. Local legend has it that there was once a church outside the town, perched on the cliff overlooking the sea, near to the site of the present-day Los Loros Hotel. One Sunday, just after mass, the congregation had filed out as usual, with the priest saying goodbye at the doorway. Suddenly and without warning, the entire cliff collapsed, and the church plunged into the sea, presumably leaving a very surprised priest balanced precariously on the cliff edge. Amazingly, nobody was killed or injured. This coincidence was (as such things often are) declared to be a miracle, and the anniversary of the event has been celebrated ever since, on the first Sunday in May.

On this day, relatives and friends gather from miles around, making their way into Santa Eulalia on their traditional horse-drawn carts. The festivities of course start with a church service in the Puig d’en Misa, the church on the hill in the centre of Santa Eulalia (reassuringly far from the sea) but the main point of the day is social, and old friends and relatives get together to enjoy the day, and maybe have a few drinks. Stories abound of horses that were astute enough to find their own way home with their masters sleeping off their too-enthusiastic celebrations in the back of the cart.

Many of the carts just have to stop several times on their way along the street while their owners chat to old friends. After the procession the true fiesta starts, with music and dancing in the town square, and festivities continuing until late into the night. Nobody celebrates a possibly mythical church falling into the sea like the Ibicencos!

This is a celebration of a genuinely joyous sort, all the more enjoyable because it celebrates an ancient legend with little substance that can nevertheless close down an entire village in the middle of a busy tourist season. Only in Spain – only in Ibiza – could this happen. Doubtless if such an event were ever to happen in England, the newspapers would be full of tales bewailing the economic costs of such an event. How I miss living in a place where the only justification needed to shut down the entire town for a day is that everybody enjoys it!