On this day Catholics celebrate the Blessing of the Animals which falls on the remembrance of the death of Abbot Saint Anthony, and churches are packed with animal, be they livestock or company animals like cats, dogs, hamsters etc. On this day it is not unusual to see horses and pigs freely roaming through the aisles of the churches and freely roaming towns, and the night is alit with bonfires and plenty of wine. This tradition comes from medieval Germany, from the Cult of Saint Anthony precisely, a vegetarian healer whose figure is deeply connected to animals.
It is a day to express gratitude to animals and their patron saint, Saint Anthony. Legends say that on this night God gifts animals with the ability to speak to humans and to one another.
Besides carrying animals to be blessed in churches this festivity is very much felt in the rural areas of Italy and Spain, though each community celebrates in its own specific way mixing the christian faith with pastoral traditions. In the villages we can see parades of old and traditional professions which were made possible by animals, such as cattle herding, chariot driving and field ploughing, honouring mules, ox and horses. Or we can see processions of people and animals following a sacred icon of Saint Anthony across the fields to deliver the blessing to all the animals, and farms open to families and children to come and play and interact with the animals. As said, each community has its peculiarity, however two things common to all are the sacred moment when the priest blesses the animals and livestock to renew the protection of Saint Anthony, and the more profane and mundane bonfires lit in the winter night involving dancing, and food and wine shared with the whole community. Interestingly enough for many rural areas this day marks also the beginning of Carnival, the celebration that precedes Easter fasting.
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