They say the devil has all the best tunes. In Mallorca, he probably throws the best parties as well.
On selected nights of the year, all over the island, well after sunset the darkened streets start to pulsate with bass drum beats, like the heartbeat in your chest of a thousand horror movies, punctuated by bestial roars from the “ximbombes”, an ancient local instrument, (a small clay pot drum affair with a stick poking out of it, but trust me, the noise comes straight out of hell). This will be your soundtrack for the night. Then out of the shadows come the devils, dimonis to the locals, dressed in rags with faces like mutant goats complete with horns, based on the satyrs of Ancient Greek mythology. You don’t have to have much of an imagination to see the pagan roots of this ritual. They arrive in showers of sparks and the high pitched shrill of fireworks and you start to wonder if health and safety is even a thing in Mallorca, well it isn’t. At least not much of a thing, and certainly not tonight.
It all started in the name of Sant Antoni, a third century Egyptian monk who spent much of his life as a hermit, shunning all visitors in solitary contemplation. During his self imposed exile he was said to have battled the devil in many forms, from horned beasts, satyrs, centaurs and diminutive demons. Despite a life of privations and torment he managed to make it to the ripe old age of 105, and the anniversary of his death on January 17th marks Mallorca’s biggest fiesta of the year. Saint Sebastian the patron of Palma, Mallorca’s capital, has his feast day a few days later, and the festivities join together for a week of celebrations that reach every corner of the island. Locals and tourists alike wrap up against the chill of the January nights and head for town squares in villages big and small, a basket of bread and meat under one arm, a bottle of something boozy to banish the cold under the other, and fight for space on the temporary “torrades” (barbecues) set up among the “foguerons” (bonfires), entertained by local music and dancing.
It wasn’t always thus, during the fascist dictatorship run by General Francisco Franco from 1936 until his death in 1975 many local traditions and regional languages were strictly forbidden throughout Spain, and like the languages were only practised in secret during his rule. Many traditions were close to dying out, but since the restoration of democracy that followed him, these old customs have grown in popularity as new generations learn about, and take pride in these regional rituals. Many towns now have their own Dimoni clubs who learn the history and safe(ish) practices as well as honing their own performances to make them distinct from other troops. They even have their own branch of local government, the Ministry Federation of Demons, Devils & Fire Beasts, to look after them. That’s a title I want on my business card.
The night of the devils, or “correfoc” as it is known locally, literally a fire run, is arguably the most spectacular of Mallorca’s festivals and it seems a shame to keep it just for a chilly night in January, so they don’t. These days they can be seen stalking the streets during fiestas all year long, scaring the willies out of the island’s summer visitors, and if you are here on one of those nights, it is definitely one to tick off the bucket list.
Here’s how it works. The dimonis process through the darkened streets with flaming torches, sipping from hidden hip flasks of lighter fluid, breathing jets of fire into the evening air. Once they have reached the town square all hell lets loose, literally. They perform a whirling dance with spears, or pitchforks topped with spinning fireworks forming an umbrella of sparks accompanied by ear splitting shrieks and the ever present drum beats. Your job is to run, or if you are feeling brave, to join the devils under the shower of sparks and deafening bangs. Each troop of dimonis have their own style and will often wheel out great dragons or giant bicycles adorned with spitting fireworks, or string curtains of sparks between lamp posts.
Is it dangerous?,….. not really, Is it safe? …. not entirely. If you are in the front row, or dancing with the devil you are going to get covered in sparks, your clothes will end up with burn holes in them. Don’t go out in your Sunday best, and try to wear long sleeves, and cover your head. You will see seasoned dimoni botherers covered head to foot wearing goggles. That’s not so comfortable in the summer months but it is essential that you don’t wear manmade fabrics. You can get away with shorts and a t-shirt, but trust me, you will get lots and lots of little burns on your skin, but nothing too painful or serious with a bit of luck. You will be forever beating out hot sparks that land in your hair, so anyone with Donald Trump-inspired hair, be warned that hairspray is going to turn you into a lit match. Each of the thousands of fireworks they get through in a display is going to end its short life with an ear piercing bang, and there is a high probability that at least a few of these are going to be a foot or two away from your ear when it does it. A cheap pair of foam ear plugs from the chemist might give you a better chance of hearing anything for the next few days. You can thank me later. If you don’t fancy being this interactive, you can still soak up the spectacle a few rows back, out of range of the sparks, but the ear plugs will still be a good move. If you have pre-teen kids it is probably best to give this one a miss, it can be pretty scary for the little ones. For everyone else, it’s a spectacular and unmissable part of any holiday to Mallorca, a bit of ancient local culture somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Photos by Phoenix Media Mallorca