Poomb! The sound of something that sounded like an old pistol firing caught my attention after 8 a.m. on Friday, March 3rd. Seconds later, poomb! Again, poomb! Then I realized this couldn’t be a gunshot or an explosion like I first thought. A gong, perhaps? This continued for a couple of minutes. I wondered what the heck was going on outside, what the commotion was at such an ‘early’ time for Barcelona.
At 8:45 a.m., the sound of a drum, pump-a-rum, pump-a-rum, and a marching band with bagpipes playing paraded by on horses, carriages and on foot right outside our front door. The cheering and liveliness surprised us when the city is usually nocturnal rather than a morning city. Despite hearing and seeing the commotion, we still didn’t know what was going on. And the sound of the marching band continued in our neighborhood until 11:30 a.m. I thought maybe the parades of the Barcelona Carnestoltes were still going on, that maybe it’s a special finale. One look at the parade, and we knew this event was not the same.
It all began in 1828 when Joseph Vidal, a baker and devoted follower of Sant Medir, was in poor health and promised if cured, he would play a bagpipe and travel on horse through the neighborhoods every March 3rd (festival of Sant Medir) while on his way to his hermitage in Sierra Collserola. This promise turned a reality in 1830 when Vidal got better, and hence the beginning of the pilgrimage. After the first year, Vidal’s friends and family joined him. Then more friends, acquaintances, and neighbors joined him, making this a tradition even after Vidal passed in 1856.
Known as Colla Dolça, or ‘sweet gang’ in Catalan, 26 different groups have formed, overtaking the streets and parading through the various districts of the city every year on March 3rd. These groups are called sweet gang because they all carry bags of candy to throw at people. I believe this is a newer addition to the groups after Vidal passed away, a way of honoring him as he was a baker.
Twelve hours later in the evening, we witnessed the last of the groups parading through the streets of Gracia. These sweet gangs looked tired, worn out, not as energetic as they were in the morning. Most of them stopped drumming, stopped cheering. The only thing some of them continued doing was the throw of the candies. Nick and I both got smacked on the head and face by hard candies hurled at us several times. We noticed the women throwing them possessed mischief in their eyes and wore a grin from the pleasure of hitting us. They clearly enjoyed their sweets attacks, but I guess they have to live up to their name, sweet gang.
When it rained candy, locals and tourists went bonkers over them, hurrying and scattering about to collect them.
Another fun, cultural experience we witnessed, and it all made sense once we learned what all the commotion was all about!