On the evening of May 3, many pueblos and cities throughout Spain celebrate the "Fiesta de las Cruces"...which is popularly (and appropriately) known by the Ubriqueños as "Día de los gamones."
A gamón is a type of wild lily, similar to a gigantic asparagus plant, that grows in hills surrounding Ubrique. Days before the fiesta, Ubriqueños can be seen throughout the mountains collecting as many gamones as possible in preparation for the evening activities of May 3rd. Once dusk hits, the entire town of Ubrique is illuminated by over 60 "candelas" or bon fires scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. The largest and most famous candela is in the Plaza de Verdura (which is conveniently right across from my flat).
So what does a wild lily esparragus like plant have to do with a bon fire? Well, as tradition has it, you place your gamones at the base of the fire, allow it to heat up, and when you see smoke and start to hear it sizzle, you grab it and smack it as hard as possible against a nearby rock. If all goes well, the end result is an extremely loud explosion (accompanied by parts of gamones flying everywhere). And everytime you explode a gamón, you are supposed to make a wish for good health for someone in your family or one of your friends. The idea being that the gamón loses its vigor and passes it on to someone else. So if you collect 30 gamones, and have 30 explosions, 30 people will supposedly have good health (that is, if you remember to make the wish).
The origin of Día de los Gamones is not exactly known, but there are two existing theories. One theory says that the practice of exploding gamones originated and was done by local shepherds to scare the wolves away from their flocks. However, the other (more widely accepted) theory suggests that at the beginning of the 19th century a French detachment occupied the area and a large portion of the Ubriqueños fled to the surrounding mountainside where they exploded gamones in an attempt to trick the French into believing the pueblo was heavily armed. And that is the story of the gamones, and the Día de los Gamones that is only celebrated in Ubrique. And in case you were wondering, while I stood around the bonfire from 10 pm until 3 am in the morning, and attempted to explode a ton of gamones, I was unsuccessful in every attempt. I must say, however, that I got a half-explosion out of a couple. That´s something, right? I guess I will have to practice when I get back to the states, so that next year I can call myself a true gamonera!