It’s 8 a.m. in Ibi, Spain. The townspeople have taken to the streets. Every year, on December 28, it’s the same demand: They’re here for “New Justice.” By 9 a.m., they’ve convened in Church Square to take over the town in a mock coup d’état.
About twenty men don military uniforms, their faces painted in bright colors. These are Els Enfarinats (“The Floured Ones”) who give the annual festival its name. They declare one of their own the new mayor and immediately start abusing their power. They enact absurd laws, enforcing them throughout the day. Citizens who disobey are fined real money. When they’ve had enough, La Oposicio (“The Opposition”) steps in to fight back.
Then, the script goes rogue. Everyone dons protective goggles, which are essential for protection against the food that’s about to fly. Suddenly, a carton of eggs pummels someone square in the back, yolks and shell splattering across other participants’ war-painted faces and uniforms. Fistfuls of flour catapult into a man’s chest. He retaliates with a blast from a fire extinguisher. (Oh yes, he’s holding a fire extinguisher.) The pop of a firecracker cuts through the flour-filled air.
During the battle, participants throw bag after bag of flour, launch hundreds of eggs, and detonate countless firecrackers and colorful smoke-bombs. By the end, everyone is coated in a thick batter. The Floured Ones look especially ready for the deep-fryer.
At 5 p.m., the town reunites. The “mayor” gives his permission to commence the dançá, which signals the end of the havoc. Ibi residents perform a set of traditional ballroom dances, Els Enfarinats donate any fines they collected to a local charity, and a cleanup crew assembles to wash away several exploded bakeries’ worth of eggs and flour.
This tradition is more than 200 years old, but it speaks to an older, darker event known as the Massacre of the Innocents (December 28 is also known as “the Day of the Innocents”). In the New Testament, King Herod slaughtered all infant boys, including his own son, in an attempt to eliminate the baby Jesus. Celebrants in Ibi use the fake coup to commemorate the biblical tragedy.
But the ritual of staging rebellion and upending societal roles dates back further, to ancient Rome’s Saturnalia festival, when masters waited on their servants. Unlike the Roman decree for “bread and circuses,” Spaniards just need the ingredients. They create the circus themselves.
Need to Know
If you travel to Ibi to participate in the festival, know that you'll be joining La Oposicio (to dress the part, you'll need a top hat). If you prefer to spectate, wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty. If you're put off by firecrackers, you can still attend the first hour—before the explosives go off.