If you’ve had a near-death experience, then it can be your privilege to be placed in a coffin and carried around on the streets of Las Nieves as part of this festival.
Spain is home to some of the oldest collections of festivals, perhaps due to the fact that nearly every Spanish village has a patron saint and an annual fiesta to celebrate that saint, or because several parts of Spain are an unlikely amalgamation of Paganism and Catholicism, giving rise to an eclectic collection of customs and festivals.
La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme or The Festival of Near-Death Experiences is one such festival. Held in the heart of the quiescent town of Las Nieves on July 29 every year, this festival celebrates, essentially, a second chance at life.
The family members of the one who claims to have survived a near-death experience carry the survivor in an empty coffin to the church, where a mass is celebrated. The most unusual aspect of this festival is that old men without families must carry their own coffins to the mass. Later, the procession moves to the church cemetery where they sing “Virgin Santa Marta, Star of the North, we bring those who saw death.”
This pilgrimage honors Las Nieves’s patron saint of resurrection, Santa Marta de Ribarteme (the sister of Lazarus who was brought back from death by Jesus), who has a granite church in this small town in her name. And the coffins that carry the survivors (or vise versa in case of aforementioned older citizens) symbolize their transcendence to a new life here on Earth through the grace of God.
Over the years, people from outside of Las Nieves have also started coming to this festival, looking for spiritual understanding of their near-death experiences. And towards the end, despite the somber nature of the festival, fireworks are set off in celebration of life and market stalls, selling religious paraphernalia fill the streets.
Ergo, for a truly freaky experience, we suggest you head to Spain and witness their pilgrimage of the nearly-dead. Also, you might want to check out this list of some oddball festivals including this one.