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Arts & Culture

Running of the Big Easy Roller Bulls

New Orleans celebrates the Spanish Running of the Bulls holiday with their own version involving the Big Easy Rollergirls running through the French Quarter.

Running of the Bulls Photo: Cheryl Gerber
Running of the Bulls (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Every year, thousands of people gather in Pamplona, Spain for the annual Feast of San Fermin, better known as The Running of the Bulls. Those who attend this exciting (and dangerous) festival don white clothing adorned with red sashes and proceed to run like hell while being chased by a dozen bulls. Down here in NOLA, we celebrate Spanish Heritage a little differently.

Running of the Bulls Photo: Cheryl Gerber
Running of the Bulls (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Here in New Orleans, we have adopted all of the fun of Pamplona’s San Fermin with little to none of the danger. San Fermin Nueva Orleans (SFNO) mimics the original festival, but with a twist. Participants still dress  in white and red and are chased through the streets of New Orleans, but our bulls are different. Their role is happily enacted by a herd of roller derby girls from around the region, country and abroad, including our local Big Easy Roller Girls and Crescent City Derby Devils, who, instead of goring participants with horns, swat at runners with whiffle bats and similar fare. In Spain, the bulls are bedecked with garlands of flowers; in SFNO, the roller girls don sparkly costumes and sport helmets with glittery, spangled horns.

Dialing down the danger means dialing up the fun. In Spain, participation is limited to men, but SFNO is open to everyone: men, women, and children over ten. But even though there is less danger, there is still the threat of “being gored.”  One solid thwack of a bull’s bat is enough to keep you moving along the route, though not so quickly that you spill your drink. Also, since we live in Costume Central, there are plenty of creative riffs on the traditional white attire with red at the waist and neck. I favor a white tutu, which allows for lots of mobility while remaining cool, but you can also find the odd matador or flamenco dancer trotting alongside you, dodging the bulls.

What began as a one day event has expanded into a long weekend of activities including a wine dinner, pre and post run parties full of booze and food (yep, New Orleanians love a party), and an Ernest Hemmingway Celebration and Talent Contest featuring skits, dramatic readings and a Hemmingway look-alike contest.

running of the bulls
The San Fermin in Nueva Orleans festival features roller derby girls from across the country (Photo: Paul Broussard)

What I most love about this festival is of course, the encierro, the actual running of the bulls because, it breaks through the summer lethargy to get you moving. Summer in New Orleans is a little warm as you may have heard. By mid-July, locals have acclimated for about two months already, and the  cool weather doesn’t come until October. SFNO not only gets us out of our houses and under the sun, it gets us running through the streets of our city. It’s a ton of fun to scamper through downtown, scooting around the reach of a bull who is out to get you. Cooling off after with an icy sangria is just a bonus.

It takes a lot to get a New Orleanian up, dressed and ready for action at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, but San Fermin Nueva Orleans is worth it. Come find out for yourself. And whatever you do, stay away from the bulls. You might spill your drink!

Running of the Bulls Festival
July 12-15
July 14, 8 a.m.

Elizabeth Pearce is the creator of The Cocktail Tour and a regular chronicler of drinking in her column Neat with a Twist.

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