PAMPLONA – Residents in Spain’s northern city of Pamplona dressed up Monday in white clothes and traditional red scarves to mark what should have been the start of their annual San Fermín festival, which was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Known for its races with bulls running along cobbled streets, the festival was popularized by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” and was last called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
With more than 28,000 deaths from the novel virus and an economy in the doldrums following a strict nationwide lockdown, local authorities say there is little to celebrate.
But Joaquín Beloki, a 33-year-old resident, said one could still toast “the health of all those who have not contracted the coronavirus.” He joined together on Monday with about 400 others at a central square where normally more than 12,000 would witness the opening of the festival.
They gathered at the city hall square at noon, the time a rocket known as “Chupinazo” opens the 9-day festival in normal times. Revelers from all around the world respond to the rocket by bathing each other with red wine and champagne.
Instead a large sign from the city hall’s facade displayed the slogan #WeWillExperienceThem, an invitation to revelers to return for next year’s celebrations.
Hundreds of police officers were deployed to prevent impromptu parties at bars or on streets.
The city’s mayor, Enrique Maya, said at a press conference that 2020 is “a parenthesis in which we are going to accumulate desire to celebrate in 2021.”
A video was also launched with medical personnel reminding viewers that “it is enough to be irresponsible one day to ruin three months of everyone’s efforts,” in reference to the confinement that Spain enacted from mid-March to mid-June.
Associated Press writer Aritz Parra contributed from Madrid.