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World Celebrations: Pigs, Pucks, and Horses

Each week on World Music (Saturday nights from 8-10 on KSTX 89.1 FM), I take a look at celebrations happening around the world. This week, a small French town squeals like a pig, a furious horse race runs in Italy, and an Irish town celebrates its 400th birthday.


If it looks like a pig and squeals like a pig, it might not be. Once a year, the pretty town of Trie-sur-Baïse in the high Pyrenees, France, recalls its illustrious past as the country’s largest pig market.
The fragrance of roast pork and sizzling bacon mingles with the fresh mountain air as the townsfolk take a day off, not just to partake of the pink porkers, but to emulate their lives. Yes indeed, a day in the life of a pig is reenacted before a panel of judges. Actually, the participants--decked out in pretty pink pig costumes--go through the sounds and motions of a pig’s life, including birth! As one of the judges observed, this in no way qualifies as an erudite form of entertainment. Quite the opposite, it’s bawdy, ridiculous and immensely funny.



Il Palio is a horse race like no other. At 90 seconds, it’s fast and rough. The race’s name, “Il Palio,” is derived from the banner presented to the winner. This year’s banner features the Virgin of the Assumption. 
Preliminary races and elimination rounds start three days in advance of the actual race. Ten horses and their jockeys will make the final cut, and these finalists will ride for their lives during the actual race. Their behavior is often egregious, as they not only try to win but simultaneously sabotage the others. The winner is not necessarily always horse and jockey, as a riderless horse can also be crowned the victor. So, horse, jockey, or both can carry home the banner for his neighborhood. The victorious are exuberant with their win whilst the losers are inconsolable in their defeat. Nevertheless, fuelled by wine and fine foods, the partying continues throughout the night and into the morning. This uniquely Italian Festival started in the mid-1600s and is one of the few events which doesn’t welcome visitors. Only the locals can fully appreciate the tradition and importance of Il Palio.


Il palio di Siena from Salvadonica on Vimeo.

Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, Ireland, celebrates its four hundredth anniversary this weekend. The origins of the celebration where a twelve year old girl crowns a wild billy goat as King Puck are hazy. Some attribute the event to a goat saving the town from an invasion by Oliver Cromwell’s army, back in the seventeenth century. Apparently a wild goat, sensing the impending danger from the murderous Cromwell, raced into town to warn the inhabitants. I prefer the more academic explanation of a link to Pre-Christian days, and the Lughnasa Pagan Festival of the harvest, when goats were regarded as symbols of fertility. Whatever the reason, this is no picnic for the unfortunate goat, who has to preside over a three day festival of general merrymaking from a throne (read: cage) perched atop a lofty pole. Festival organizers are involved in maintaining the traditional three day event in a special sequence of events. Day one is a horse fair, The Gathering, day two a cattle fair, and the third day is The Scattering, when all festivities come to an end and the wretched goat is permitted to return to the safety of the McGillicuddy Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range.

Learn more about these and other celebrations happening around the world this week on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, Saturday nights at 8:00 on KSTX 89.1 FM.

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Deirdre as born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and her first paid work was at the age of 10 with the BBC as an actress on "Children's Hour." She continued to perform regularly on radio and stage for the next eight years, at which point she was informed by her parents that theater was not an option and she needed "real" work.