The Day of the Geese is normally held on September 5th, as a part of the Patronal Festival of Lekeitio, San Antolines. It is a competitive festival with a long tradition.
The port of Lekeitio is full of ‘chalupas‘ (small boats), which are awaiting their turn to sail under the goose (a random lottery, that determines the order in which the ‘chalupas’ sail, is held on the morning). A goose, drenched in oil, hangs on a rope which crosses the harbor from one dock to the other.
One end of the rope is fixed, with the other end held by a group of people. The ‘Chalupa’ sets sail for the goose. One of the participants holds the goose head. At this point, the group holding the end of the rope, loosens it to submerge the participant in the water. They continue tightening and loosening the rope until the participant lets the bird go.
The winner is the one which has managed to pull the goose head off, after having gone up and down more times (‘alzada’). A second prize is given to the participant who, without having got the bird´s head, got more ‘alzadas’.
Participants in the festival are dressed in blue except those who are responsible for grabbing the geese, who will be dressed in white. Just for the competition, they will wear a wool pullover to prevent sliding.
This year 84 ‘chalupas’, of which 17 have chosen a plastic goose, have taken part in the competition. The first prize was for a ‘cuadrilla’ who got 6 ‘alzadas’ and the second one managed up to 8.
A little bit of History
There are documents which testify that this is a tradition of three and a half centuries. Furthermore, it is believed that the origin of the festival could be found in primitive rituals.
There was once a time when only sailors could take part in these celebrations. Nowadays anyone is allowed to be part of the ‘cuadrilla’, group who sails in the ‘chalupa’, however only those under 75 kg can be nominated to grab the goose.
Up until 1986, the geese were supposedly sedated but alive. Since then, the geese used for the festival are dead. It was not until the 2006, due to the avian flu, that plastic birds were used. In recent years, the participants are free to choose between using a real goose or a plastic goose.
My personal point of view
What brute and cruel people were they, using live geese that way! I can´t even imagine!. I am pleased to have gotten to know it right now in a time when live geese are no longer hanged on the rope. Otherwise, I wouldn´t have been able to write about it and let alone to experience the celebration. However, the Day of the Geese has become a curious and original festival, without animal suffering.
I have personally sailed on one of these ‘Chalupas‘. It may have been the most crowded and rowdy one but it was an interesting experience. Only when our boat was sailing under the goose, the ‘cuadrilla’ calmed down. However, as soon as the bird was grabbed, the screaming and cheering returned and several participants jump from the boat into the water to congratulate our teammate. Thank you to the Titiri ‘cuadrilla’ for letting me share with them this experience.