Every February for centuries, locals in a small town in Mexico have thrown a bombastic festival unlike any other in the world. The souvenirs from attending can be lifelong – and we’re not talking some lame story about drinking too much on holiday, but rather scars from real, legitimate, shrapnel wounds. Some call it the “Bomb Hammer Party.”
Way back in the 17th century, the town’s namesake, affectionately referred to as “San Juantito,” became embroiled in a battle with the area’s wealthy landowners. As the santito had a penchant for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, he earned himself something of a reputation for being “Mexico’s Robin Hood.” From here, the particulars get a little fuzzy; the modern day celebration at San Juan de la Vega is a bastardized reenactment of the skirmish between San Juantito and the local dons. Which side possessed the original hammer bombs is forever lost in the smoky hazy of history. Nonetheless, the celebration of the conflict continues to be celebrated near the time of Lent each year, in highly incendiary fashion.
Lest the fun get buried in the details, the weapon of choice for revelers is still explosive hammers, thrown about by live human beings. Breaking down this tradition further, it looks more like legitimately homemade firecrackers are strapped to the end of a sledgehammer, whereupon a young male will slam their slapdash thunder-stick onto a sheet of metal, detonating the package to the delight of everyone (while sometimes sending the brave young lad flying like a rag doll). Man after man steps up to throw down for the Bomb Hammer Party from late morning until suppertime… or until something truly catastrophic happens to the crowd.
This hiccup is what has designated the Feast of San Juan de la Vega among the most dangerous festivals in the world. One need not look much further than recent statistics to understand what showing up to this party could mean, in very tangible terms: 17 onlookers were wounded in minor ways in 2007, while the following year saw a whopping 50 bystanders catching some form of shrapnel from firecracker sledgehammering gone wrong.
For what it’s worth, with upwards of 400 years of Bomb Hammer Parties under their belt, this is anything but San Juan de la Vega’s first explosive hammer rodeo. Police and medics are posted throughout, ready to manage the seemingly inevitable. Tens of thousands of people show up for the annual tradition, so while this is hilariously, undeniably dangerous, the odds of catching a serious flesh wound are actually, statistically, not THAT high.
Know Before You Go
The festival starts around 9:00 and goes until 15:00. There's not much for accommodations in this sleepy little town, so staying in the nearby city of Celaya is easiest. Make sure to bring earplugs, eye protection (sunglasses are fine), and something to cover your mouth. The first two may be common sense, but the third is to block the sulphurous gasses from entering your lungs. It burns, and perhaps is the most unpleasant part of the festival. The tool of choice for the locals is a bandana.