Madrid Sheep Festival: A centuries-old tradition that continues to be celebrated today

The Spaniards excel in creating a jubilant ambiance. The days when shepherds guide their sheep through Madrid unfold as a splendid celebration, captivating millions of tourists who halt to witness the spectacle.

During a specific Sunday from late October to early November each year, the grand Madrid Sheep Festival takes place. A multitude of sheep, escorted by over a dozen shepherds, gracefully traverse Madrid and migrate to the warmer regions of Spain for the winter.

The Sheep Festival was officially recognized as a festivity by the Madrid Municipal Government in 1994. On the day of the festival, numerous entertaining programs ensue. Prior to the arrival of the sheep flocks, the citizens of Madrid partake in a procession through the city center adorned in vibrant national attire. Accompanied by a colossal band, trumpets and drums resound to pave the way for the approaching sheep flocks. For the sake of safety, Madrid deploys hundreds of police officers and dozens of patrol cars to safeguard the procession and the sheep.

Following the procession, the flock “blossoms in its entirety.” Guided by the shepherds, the sheep gracefully traverse the streets of Madrid. In order to ensure the sheep adhere to the designated paths, the shepherds vociferate “sheep words” intelligible only to the sheep. Not only do they vocalize commands, but they also intermittently whistle to direct the flock’s forward movement. Influenced by the layout of Madrid’s streets, the sheep flocks occasionally form long queues. However, upon entering the square, they reconvene in a circular formation, closely packed as they advance.

The shepherd’s guidance ensures an orderly progression, with no sheep deviating from the prescribed order. However, the only unrestrained aspect is the sheep’s tendency to defecate and urinate indiscriminately. Consequently, a city-appointed cleaning team diligently follows in the wake of the sheep. They gather the sheep manure, which is then processed into fertilizer at a factory. These natural and organic fertilizers significantly benefit plant growth. Every year, during the Goat Festival, the dung contributed by thousands of sheep yields hundreds of kilograms of premium-quality fertilizer.

Curiously, the Sheep Drive Festival incorporates a “toll payment” tradition, wherein the chief shepherd pays a nominal fee to the city government, and the mayor merely endorses the mayor’s decree permitting the crossing. Historically, a century ago, due to the large number of sheep passing through Madrid, excessive excrement and urine caused public grievances. Consequently, some individuals erected barriers to impede the sheep’s passage, prompting the shepherds to seek aid from local influential figures. Through negotiations, the shepherds agreed to pay 10 silver coins, allowing the cleaning team to manage the sheep manure and distribute it to the villagers as fertilizer. With the passage of time, this payment practice has evolved into a cherished traditional performance.

Wherever the sheep venture, people extend their hands to gently caress their woolly bodies, expressing affection for these creatures. The gentle bleating of the sheep is regarded as their way of expressing gratitude to humans for their reciprocation. The Spanish military holds sheep as mascots, with certain units being led not by officers but by a ram donning a military cap and a military flag during the annual Spanish National Day military parade.

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