La Vaquilla

This week, ACCENT Madrid Programs Coordinator Ana Hernández discusses a popular and festive event that takes places in Madrid early each year: La Vaquilla. La Vaquilla celebrates the act of shepherds moving cattle from one grazing ground to another, representing the arrival of spring and the end of winter.

When I moved to Colmenar Viejo, I was 4 years old. Since then, I have learned to admire and understand the traditions of this town located North of Madrid. Today I wanted to share with you a deeply rooted tradition: La Vaquilla (The Heifer).

It is believed that La Vaquilla dates back to the 13th century, but some historians argue that it might predate Roman times or even pre-history! Traditionally, this festival has been celebrated on February 2nd, but the citizens of Colmenar Viejo voted in 2015 to celebrate it on the last Saturday of January from now on because, by moving the holiday to a weekend, more people could participate in the celebration and more tourists would be able to join them.

Celebrated by generation after generation, this festival has grown in popularity, and in 1986, La Vaquilla was declared Fiesta de Interés Turístico Nacional (Festival of Interest for National Tourists). La Vaquilla commemorates the labor of shepherds in a process called transhumance, which consists of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another following the seasonal cycles of winter and spring.

Despite this holiday symbolizing the passing of cows and other animals through the town’s streets, there are no animals involved in the celebration of this holiday. Instead, The Heifer is made of a wooden structure with horns and a tail to which differently colored fabrics are attached and intertwined with ring-shaped pastries called rosquillas.

The festival is colorful and cheerful, with participants wearing brightly colored traditional costumes covered with jingling bells.

The celebration of La Vaquilla consists of running from the house where The Heifer is kept, to the main square of the town. While running, the “shepherds” make noise with their bells, and the person carrying The Heifer makes the wooden structure “dance”, pretending that it is charging against the “shepherds”. There is a “shepherd” that guides the rest, indicating through which streets they need to run and he or she is called the mayoral.

Carrying The Heifer is very difficult because the wooden structure weighs approximately 65 pounds, but “dressing” The Heifer entails an equally rigorous effort. It takes a full month to prepare the wooden structure because all the fabrics used in its decoration need to be individually sewn. Nevertheless, carrying and dressing The Heifer has a reward: once each of the Heifers from the different families have arrived at the main square, there is a committee that votes which Heifer is the best and the participants are given a prize.

Come to experience La Vaquilla yourself next January!

~Ana Hernández, ACCENT Madrid

Inspired to see the magic of La Vaquilla for yourself in Madrid? Use the ACCENT Program Finder to discover your next great adventure: