AP PHOTOS: Spanish parades feature bizarre costumes, masks

CASAVIEJA, Spain — Bulls and tomatoes may be the key ingredients in Spain's most famous festivals, but masks and bizarre outfits are the showpieces in dozens of smaller town celebrations, many dating back to medieval times.

These festivals, held in off-the-beaten path towns across central and northwestern Spain, most often coincide with festivities celebrating the advent of spring, mixing Carnival and bizarre pagan-like rituals with mock battles between good and evil.

Town residents don horned and maned masks, multicolored conical hats, sheepskins and cowbells and parade through the narrow streets of their villages. Other participants pose as bears, wolves or devil-like characters brandishing sticks as they run about to entertain spectators.

The festivals' origins are for the most part vague and their titles— such as the "Cucurrumachos" in Navalosa town or the "Zarramaches" in the village of Casavieja — are more often than not untranslatable.

Casavieja's festival takes place on St. Blaise's day, Feb. 3, and celebrates tales of how shepherds living in the nearby mountains came down to the village on that day to be paid and began dressing oddly to entertain children.

The La Vijanera parade, held on the first Sunday of the year in the northern town of Silio, is a colorful a Carnival-type pageant symbolizing the expulsion of evil spirits and stars characters known as "Trapajones," dressed up in costumes made of wood, moss or corn cobs.

And while the mask festivals may not attract the tens of thousands of party-goers like Pamplona's San Fermin bull-running fiesta or the Tomatina tomato battle, they are very popular and draw more tourists and media each year.

The towns also strive to promote the festivals to keep their cultural heritage alive. As part of this effort, each year one of the towns stages a special event to showcase a variety of the characters from the different festivals.

This year's event, celebrated April 1 in Casavieja, featured the comical hairy bear and "Trapajon" straw figures of "La Vijanera" festival and the "Harramacho," savage-looking characters from the "Cucurrumachos" fiesta.

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Giles contributed from Madrid.

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