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Fête de l’Ours – Bear Festival, Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans
Bear Festival and Carnival
The Saint Laurent bearfest is based around age-old traditions.
In the past, the young men of the mountain villages of the Pyrénées would attempt to capture a bear at this time of year, in order to prove their bravery!
The time of year was well chosen, the bear being weakened by long months of hibernation.
The tradition continues to this day, but now it is the young people of the village who dress up as bears and the capture is purely symbolic.
Until 1992, the costume was made out of goat skins sewn together, but now a real bear skin is imported from Canada and the old goat skin bear outfit is on display at the Saint Laurent Museum.
An even earlier example of this type of costume can be seen at the Casa Pairal in Perpignan.
He comes out of his cave, abducts a young girl and carries her off to the forest. The whole village joins in the hunt to capture the bear.
The ‘meneur’ or leader drags the bear through the street on a chain reciting the Catalan poem ‘La Predica de l’Os’ which describes how bad the bear is, and of course, how brave the hunter is.
The bear dances to cobla music, tries to escape – the macho meneur wins the struggle, takes him to the town square and shaves him.
The bear ‘dies’, lying on the ground for a short time, before leaping up again, this time with a human face. He is now allowed to choose a young lady from the crowd to finish off the event with the ritual dance.
Other strange things
Watch out during the procession for the ‘monaca‘ a strange monster with two bodies, two heads and four pairs of legs, who represents the end of winter and the arrival of spring and terrorises young girls and children in the streets.
Keep an eye out also for the ‘escalfador‘, a copper bowl in which pig’s hair is burnt, causing a very unpleasant smell. This is carried by two young people disguised as old people whose aim is to quietly slip the bowl under the skirts of the young girls and women!