Tradition? Or Animal Abuse? Spain’s Violent Festivals

The author, Liz Pitt

Spain‘s violent undertones are exemplified with its passion for bullfighting.  The Goose Festival  in Lekeitio is another ritual involving the celebration of animals’ deaths.  The Scoopettes do not agree with this violence, however we choose to describe the diverse aspects of Spain.  In contrast, The Blessing of the Animals is another popular festival.  Liz Pitt, our local expert from Northern Spain, gives us her take on this bizarre festival which takes place about 50 miles from San Sebastian.

By Liz Pitt

Everyone knows Spain is famous for its crazy festivals:  a huge tomato food fight (La Tomatina), the burning of large paper sculptures (Las Fallas), or running through a town with angry bulls hot on your heels  (Running of the Bulls),to name a few. However, one of my favorite bizarre Spanish festivals is not as well known, but just as entertaining.

Fiesta de los Gansos, or the Goose Festival, takes place the first week in September in a small fishing village called Lekeitio. It is the town’s yearly festival, and people come from all over the Basque Country to eat, drink, and watch the geese.  The Day of the Goose is the first week of September and the geese grabbing festivities are held on the first Saturday.

Spectators gather around the harbor, hours before, to stake out a good spot. Teams, comprised of groups of friends, each take a little rowboat to the middle of the harbor. From one side of the harbor to the other, a giant rope is strung.

A dead, greased-up goose is strung up on the rope so that it hangs over the water. One at a time, each team approaches the goose, and positions the boat directly under it. One member of the team grabs the goose in a tight grip under their arm. At the sound of the whistle, the rope is skyrocketed into the air. The aim is for the person grabbing to snap the head off the goose before they lose their grip on the animal.

Goose grabbing in Lekeitio

It is a sight to see, with people flying through the air, letting the goose slip out of their arms, and crashing into the water. During the hour I was watching, I saw only one person successfully snap the head off the goose, but witnessed many people being taken away on stretchers after suffering from some serious whiplash. After the event, you could see groups of people walking around, carrying their trophy goose around with them.


I asked around, but I seemed to get varying accounts on why and how this tradition started. The most popular story is that a long time ago, food was scarce, so the government officials came up with a competition. The person who snapped the head off the then-live goose (animal activists made them change the rules a few years ago) got to keep it to feed their family. The tradition stuck, and continues with enthusiasm to this day.

The whole event felt surreal to me and at the same time it was really fun to see such a small village explode with people eating, drinking, and coming together for a old tradition.

In addition, Lekeitio is a beautiful coastal, traditional Basque village.  Plan to spend a few days surrounding the festival in the town. There are several nice beaches. There is also a tidal island, which used to be a leper colony, that you can walk to at low tide.  A big selection of restaurants serve traditional Basque food in the gorgeous old town.

Liz Pitt is a travel writer and blogger. You can check out her stories and photos on her blog,

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