I'm Rick Steves, and it's party time in Europe.
In the next hour, you'll see no museums and no art galleries, just Europeans having lots of fun.
Europe is expert at festivals, and we're about to enjoy my favorites.
Thanks for joining us!
♪♪ ♪♪ Europe, with so much history, art, and high culture, also knows how to celebrate.
And with so many centuries of practice, they do it with amazing gusto.
If you know where to go and when to go, you can enjoy festival extravaganzas throughout the continent and throughout the calendar.
We're dropping in on what you could call the continent's top 10 parties, each rich in tradition and a celebration of local culture and all of them full of opportunities to sing and dance, feast on traditional food, and party like a local.
We'll join wild and crazy crowds... don a mask for anonymity... toss a caber with Scottish strongmen.... -[ Grunts ] -...join in festive feasts... and run for our lives.
We'll browse holiday markets... sled down Alps by torchlight... dance with Spaniards... drink lots of beer... and light up the sky.
With the entire continent as our playground, fun is our mission.
We'll careen all over Europe -- the Palio in Siena, highland games in Scotland, carnival in Venice, Slovenia, and Luzern, Holy Week in Andalucía, and Easter in Greece, April Fair in Sevilla, Bastille Day in Paris, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Oktoberfest in Munich, and Christmas in Nuernberg, Norway, and Switzerland.
Across Europe, festival traditions go back centuries and are filled with time-honored pageantry and ritual.
Entire communities hurl themselves with abandon into the craziness.
There's no better example than here in Italy -- Siena's Palio.
In this gorgeously preserved Tuscan hill-town, the Middle Ages seem to survive in the architecture.
Its towering City Hall tower fronts an elegant shell-shaped main square, il Campo.
While its streets are peaceful, they contain a lively legacy of civic pride and independence.
And twice a year, that spirit shows itself in a crazy horse race, as it has for five centuries.
The city is divided into 17 neighborhoods, or "contrade."
These are autonomous, competitive, and filled with rivalries.
In this densely populated city, most of the year, the contrade are almost indistinguishable.
One small piazza or street looks much like the next.
But as the Palio approaches, the battle lines are drawn.
The distinctive flags and colors of each contrada line the neighborhood, showing their namesake mascot, like turtle... eagle... dragon... and a fierce-looking dolphin.
All year long, citizens prepare.
Women lovingly stitch vests and banners.
Neighborhood fathers coach kids in drumming and flag throwing.
Any time of year, if you hear drumming, check it out for a taste of the Palio to come.
And twice a year, each July and August, the entire city readies itself as 10 of the 17 neighborhoods -- chosen by lottery -- prepare for the big race.
Its central square, il Campo, is transformed into a medieval racetrack.
Tons of clay are packed atop the cobbles.
Padding is added to the treacherous corners.
And bleachers and railings are set up in anticipation of the big day.
While the horse race lasts only a couple of minutes, for the Sienese, the Palio is a way of life.
For many, it's a philosophy.
Locals joke that, "In Siena, you're born, there's the Palio, and then you die."
[ All singing in Italian ] While the jockeys -- usually from out of town -- are hired hands, the horses are the stars.
Each neighborhood gets its horse through a lottery.
They're then adopted and showered with love, respected as if special neighborhood citizens.
They're groomed and washed and housed in stables right in the city center.
In the days leading up to the race, they're frequently paraded through the streets for their admiring fans.
As race day approaches, processions break out across the city.
Locals belt out passionate good-luck choruses.
[ All singing in Italian ] With the waving flags and pounding drums, it all hearkens back to the Middle Ages when rituals like these boosted morale before battle.
Each contrada marches into Siena's ornate cathedral.
[ Drums playing ] The centerpiece of the parade is the actual Palio.
That's the famed and treasured banner, lovingly painted and featuring the Virgin Mary, to whom the race is dedicated.
The church is thronged as all the neighborhoods wave their stirring flags in unison to honor the Palio's procession to the altar.
Here, it's blessed as the crowd looks upon it reverently.
Soon, it'll be awarded to the victorious contrada.
With the horses and jockeys chosen and the Palio blessed and waiting for the winner, competing neighborhoods gather for big community dinners that last well into the night.
Each banquet is beautifully situated in the heart of the district.
It's a multigenerational affair with old timers, the young, and the very young.
There are rousing choruses, all cheering their contrade... [ All singing in Italian ] [ All chanting in Italian ] ...and little ones soaking up the centuries-old traditions.
Even if I don't fully understand what's happening, the excitement is contagious, and the wine is delightful.
I feel privileged to participate in a scene that's changed little over the centuries.
[ Indistinct conversations ] On the day of the race, those honored to represent their contrada put on elaborate medieval costumes and armor.
This requires many assistants who not only help fit the clothing but make sure it looks just as it did centuries ago.
In full regalia, the contrade then process to the neighborhood church, where there's a colorful flag ceremony... [ Drums playing ] [ Applause ] ...followed by a full-throated singing of the contrada's hymn... [ All singing heartily in Italian ] ...and, finally, the traditional blessing of the horse by the priest.
-[ Speaking Italian ] -"Go, and return victorious," says the priest.
Then -- you guessed it -- there's another procession with more drums and flags as each contrada marches through Siena, eventually flowing together at the cathedral, where, before the bishop, they showcase their passion and talents.
[ Drums playing ] [ Applause ] After all have gathered at the cathedral, there's one last grand parade through the canyon-like streets.
With drums thundering, the people crush to join the scene.
The town converges on its main square.
And then, with what seems like all of Siena packed into the Campo, it's time for the race.
Bleacher and balcony seats are expensive, but standing room with the masses in the square is free.
A cart pulled by oxen carrying the coveted Palio banner enters.
This only increases the crowd's anticipation.
Then, 10 snorting horses and their nervous riders line up to await the start.
The jockeying includes a little last-minute negotiating.
Then, silence takes over.
Once the rope drops, there's one basic rule -- there are no rules.
[ Crowd cheering ] They race bareback like crazy while spectators go wild.
With nonstop spills and thrills, life in Siena stops for these frantic three laps -- just about 90 seconds.
[ Suspenseful music plays ] [ Crowd cheering ] And Lupa, the she-wolf district, wins.
When the winner crosses the line, 1/17th of Siena, the prevailing she-wolf neighborhood, goes berserk.
Tears of joy flow.
The jubilation is over the top for both the winners and for the many neighborhoods joyously celebrating their rival contrada's defeat.
The happy horde thunders through the streets and up to the cathedral.
Once there, they pack the church, and the winning contrada receives the coveted Palio -- champions until the next race.
Along with ritual and pageantry, some festivals originated with a more practical purpose -- to train their men to be fit for battle.
Warriors, whether in ancient Greece competing in the Olympics, or clansmen gathering here in Scotland, would go at it on the field.
And today, communities throughout Scotland still host a highland games, where kilted athletes from the surrounding countryside gather to show off their speed, strength, and grace.
A highland games is an all-day celebration of local sport and culture, like a track meet and a county fair rolled into one.
It's a fine day out for the family with a soundtrack of traditional Scottish music and clan pride showing itself in the tartan patterns.
The community cheers on the athletes and dancers.
[ Lively bagpipe music plays ] The day's events typically kick off with the arrival of a parading pipe band led by the local clan chieftain.
After a lap around the field, the competition begins.
In the heavy events, billed as feats of highland strength, brawny, kilted athletes push their limits.
-[ Grunts ] -In the weight throw, competitors spin like bulky ballerinas before releasing a heavy ball on a chain.
The hammer throw involves a similar technique with an iron ball on a long stick.
And the stone put has been adopted in international sports as the shot put.
In this event, highlanders swing a 56-pound weight over a horizontal bar that keeps getting higher and higher.
-[ Grunts ] -And, of course, there's the caber toss.
Pick up a giant log, called a caber, get a running start, and release it end over end with enough force to make the caber flip all the way over and land at the 12:00 position.
Meanwhile, the track events run circles around all that muscle.
The races offer fun for all those attending, including events for the kids.
[ Gunshot ] And visitors from far-away lands are welcome to join in, as well.
I think I found my sport.
Lifting what's called a "manhood stone" is a standard part of these games.
-Brawny lads impress their girls with a show of strength.
With a wee glass of courage, competitors lift and carry the 250-pound stone -- or at least give it a good try.
[ Laughter ] I taught this guy everything he knows.
[ Crowd cheering ] ♪♪ There's always a showoff.
And it's not all brute strength.
Highland dancing shows off both athleticism and grace.
With years of practice, young girls dance with an impressive confidence and fluidity.
A lone piper accompanies serious wee dancers who toe their routines with intense concentration.
Within a few years, they'll likely be dancing with the same mastery as the older girls.
These highland games, like most European festivals, go way back.
And the time of year that they happen is no accident.
It's often tied to the struggles of the season.
In fact, some of Europe's major festivals are scheduled in the dead of winter.
Many modern celebrations are rooted deep in Europe's Dark Age past.
In a time filled with superstition and mystery, when winters were bleak and hungry, people craved an off-season pick-me-up.
Throughout the Catholic world, carnival was the ultimate midwinter festival.
A memorable way to experience carnival traditions is in the countryside of Slovenia.
Whether it's in the mountains or the valleys, a common theme is a visitation of masked, hairy creatures.
Some are called Kurents, and others are called simply "the ugly ones."
These wooly monsters parade through villages making a racket, rattling and clanging their bells from door to door, chasing away evil spirits and trying to frighten off winter.
Homeowners eventually come to the door and, to quell the clamoring mob, they give the leader a sausage... and a few cups of wine for the gang.
The ugly ones swing their hips wildly with satisfaction.
This ritual is a remnant from the distant past when families were persuaded to share food during hard times.
Another band of characters also roves from house to house.
A group of plowmen pull a colorful wagon decked out in ribbons and flowers, representing fertility and the coming of spring.
The homeowner is asked for permission to "plow for the big turnip."
The plowmen then drag the fanciful plow behind men dressed as horses.
This wakes up the soil in preparation for a season of bountiful crops.
Cracking whips announce the procession.
After the symbolic plowing and sowing, the homeowner offers the merry band eggs and sausage and wishes them good health and a good harvest.
[ All chanting in foreign language ] The best-known carnival celebration in Europe is in Venice.
Each winter, carnival casts a spell on Venetians and visitors alike.
Following a tradition that originated in the 13th century, the city slips behind a mask of anonymity as Venetians promenade... pose... and pretend to be someone they're not.
Authority is challenged.
Rules are broken.
To indulge in all the pleasures that will be forbidden in Lent.
An elegant disguise is both transformative and liberating, but it's the mask, so symbolic of this enigmatic city, that functions as a cloak of invisibility.
The pleasurable appeal of anonymity is as powerful today as it was in the Middle Ages.
As dusk falls, the back streets come alive with strangers.
Now, as then, in Venice, decadence rules the night.
In palazzos off the Grand Canal, elaborately staged parties take the aura of mystery a step further.
Behind their masks, all people, from bankers to bakers, are equal.
Tonight, no one knows who's who, and reality seems a distant dream.
And as it was centuries ago, what happens in Venice stays in Venice.
Carnival is celebrated in a much less elegant fashion in Switzerland where the locals, often considered the most button-down people in Europe, really let loose.
And an epicenter of this midwinter craziness before Lent are the celebrations in the city of Luzern.
[ Up-tempo march plays ] Before sunrise, the driving beat of multiple parading bands wakes the city up like a mobile alarm clock.
Musicians, wearing weird masks and playing loudly -- often out of tune -- march through the waking town.
[ Dissonant march plays ] Today is Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday" -- the same Mardi Gras celebrated in New Orleans.
After six days of carnival celebration, this is the climax.
Lent and fasting start tomorrow, but today is all about bringing on what's fun and tasty -- music of all kinds, costumes of all kinds, and food of all kinds.
What better time for a little cheese fondue?
After sunrise, the bands forget typical Swiss discipline and order and break up, wandering randomly throughout the town.
[ Up-tempo music plays ] The bands play on.
The streets are filled with the vibe of relaxed goodwill.
Restaurants are packed.
Bands spontaneously take the stage and play enthusiastically.
A children's parade is a sweet way to train kids to carry on this tradition.
Even five-star hotels open their doors and let the partying public celebrate inside.
[ Up-tempo march plays ] Somehow, late in the afternoon, the groups reorganize for a long parade.
Band members, with famous Swiss stamina, keep playing.
Themes vary from ancient pagan... to political satire... to every creative scene in between.
With the end of Fat Tuesday parties, carnival celebrations in Luzern and across Europe are finished.
Festival-filled valleys and towns are now quiet as after Fat Tuesday comes Ash Wednesday, and the party is officially over.
The end of carnival coincided with the leanest days of winter.
Imagine 4,000 years ago when these stones marked the seasons.
Imagine in ancient times the despair of winter.
"Where did the sun go?
Will we all starve?"
But, gradually, every year, flowers bloomed, crops grew again, and the green promise of spring returned.
Back in pagan times, communities built stone circles, which experts believe functioned as celestial calendars to track the sun and mark the seasons.
With spring equinox, Druids would gather to celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring, a time of renewal, birth, and fertility.
Over the centuries, the church embraced the same springtime theme of new life, and that's Easter.
Easter is preceded by a week filled with holy activities when Christians remember Jesus Christ's final week, progressing from suffering... to death... to resurrection.
[ Dramatic music plays ] In Spain, Holy Week is called Semana Santa.
It's celebrated with unrivaled pageantry and emotion, most famously in Seville, or Sevilla.
Here, Semana Santa is an epic event that stirs the soul and captivates all who participate.
On Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, families dressed up for this important day head into their parish church for Mass.
Then, promenading with palm and olive branches, they make a loop through the neighborhood, eventually returning to their home church.
[ Solemn piano music plays ] Afterwards, they visit other churches throughout the city, each displaying elaborate floats.
Sevilla has many religious brotherhoods, or fraternities, that are entrusted with the care of venerable floats that carry statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary through the streets during Semana Santa.
Sevillanos hold a special place in their hearts for Mary.
Floats with Mary evoke great emotions and remind them of the grieving mother who has lost her only son.
Every neighborhood church has its own unique Mary.
All are the grieving mothers of the crucified Christ, but each one represents a different aspect of her sorrow.
And there are other floats.
This one, nicknamed "La Borriquita," or "The Little Donkey," depicts Jesus' grand entrance into Jerusalem.
[ Fanfare plays ] La Borriquita leaves its church and begins its procession through the narrow streets.
This marks the official start of Holy Week.
From now on, every day until Easter Sunday, the city is enlivened with dozens of such processions.
These ritual parades first filled the streets of Sevilla 400 years ago.
They're designed to present the story of the Passion, the death and Resurrection of Jesus, in a way the average person could understand.
Today, some 60 fraternities each make the journey on foot, carrying floats in processions like these from their parishes to the city's cathedral and back.
The journey, through miles of passionate crowds, can take up to 14 hours.
Strongmen called "costaleros" work in shifts.
As a team, they bear two tons of weight on their shoulders, an experience they consider a great honor despite and indeed because of the great pain involved.
As the floats slowly make their way to the cathedral, moments of great passion occasionally bring everything to a standstill.
-[ Singing in Spanish ] -Centuries of flamenco singers have serenaded Mary and Jesus with love songs as they process through the city.
-[ Continues singing in Spanish ] -Traditionally spontaneous, these passionate songs occur when a singer is so overcome with emotion, he must break into song.
-[ Singing emphatically in Spanish ] [ Cheers and applause ] As dusk settles on Sevilla, a long line of silent, black-clad penitents escort one of the city's most moving floats toward the cathedral.
The float portrays the dead Jesus taken down from the cross and mourned by the people who loved him most.
Among the most dramatic of the week's processions, the float is decorated simply with purple iris and a single red rose, symbolizing the blood Jesus shed.
♪♪ As night closes in, penitents' candles sway like fireflies dancing in the dark.
The entire Holy Week in Spain is a glorious spectacle.
After a full day, it's hard to imagine more.
And then the Mary known as "Estrella" appears, ethereal and radiant.
A shower of petals rains down upon her as if heaven itself is thanking her for her immense and loving sacrifice.
♪♪ In Greece, we're in the city of Nafplio.
Easter is celebrated as both the welcoming of spring and as a deeply religious festival with a distinctly Orthodox Christian flavor.
By late Saturday night on the eve before Easter, the people spill from their churches and fill the main square with a palpable sense of expectation.
When midnight strikes, fireworks light up the sky, and, finally, Easter Sunday is here.
[ Fireworks screeching, exploding ] The holy flame, which literally travels from Jerusalem to Athens and then to towns throughout Greece, is shared along with the ritual Easter "kiss of love."
And it's not over yet.
Everyone then heads home for the biggest party of the season.
People carry the Easter flame home as a burning candle.
Raising it above their heads, they make a cross above the doorway, symbolizing that the light of the Resurrection has blessed their home for another year.
A long table awaits as the extended family gathers.
They have a competition to find out whose Easter egg will be the strongest.
-[ Chuckles ] -Sighs of disappointment from losers are mixed with the laughter of winners until the proud victor, who'll enjoy a particularly blessed upcoming year, is declared.
It's a joyous family gathering.
The feast continues into the wee hours of Easter Sunday with lots of meat and eggs and no shortage of Easter bread.
And the feasting continues after a little sleep.
By the afternoon, in villages all across Greece, families are grilling lamb, eating, singing... -[ Singing in Greek ] -...and dancing.
[ Upbeat music plays, woman singing in Greek ] It seems there's a spring lamb on a spit in every backyard.
The roast takes hours, but no one's in a hurry.
It's an all-day affair.
People move between households, checking on each other's lambs and socializing.
When the spit stops, the feast begins -- lamb off the bone, lamb off the fingers, beer, wine, music... more food, more family fun, more lamb.
People party all day long.
Eventually, the village ends up back at the church, dancing and singing.
Together, they celebrate as they have every year for all their lives, celebrating the hope of renewal at yet another joyous Easter Sunday.
♪♪ As if to continue this celebration of the return of spring, some places let loose in vibrant, secular festivals.
One of the most exuberant and colorful is in Spain -- Sevilla's gigantic Spring Fair.
Throughout Southern Spain, a region so expert at fiestas and romance, cities like Sevilla greet each spring with a festival for all ages, a festival where the horses are nearly as dressed up as the people.
A springtime flirtatiousness fills the air, and travelers are more than welcome to join in the fun.
For seven days each April, it seems much of Sevilla is packed into its vast fairgrounds.
The fair feels friendly, spontaneous, very real.
The Andalucían passion for horses, flamenco... [ Women singing in Spanish ] ...and sherry is clear.
Riders are ramrod straight.
Colorfully-clad señoritas ride side-saddle, and everyone's drinking sherry spritzers.
Woman sport outlandish dresses that would look clownish all alone but somehow brilliant here en masse.
Hundreds of private party tents, or casetas, line the lanes.
Each striped tent is the party zone of a particular family, club, or association.
To get in, you need to know someone in the group or make friends quickly.
My local friend, Concepción, is well-connected.
-And as a friend of a friend, we're in.
This is your caseta?
-Esta la caseta.
-Because of the exclusivity, it has a real family-affair feeling.
Throughout Andalucía, at spring fairs like Sevilla's, it seems everyone knows everyone in what seems like a thousand wedding parties being celebrated all at the same time.
Festivals help maintain a culture's identity.
Pageantry stokes local, regional, or national pride.
And while annual festivals are the big events, this celebration of culture can be just as rich on a smaller scale.
Traveling through Europe, any day of the year, you can experience a festive spirit powered by music that simply makes daily life more celebratory.
Beloved musical traditions have long helped embattled cultures to assert their identity, to sing and dance their way through centuries of challenges, like the Roma people here in the Czech Republic and throughout Europe.
People everywhere grab their folk instruments, pull on their national costumes, and gather together to celebrate their culture.
Here in Bulgaria, dance troupes in colorful dress whoop it up Slavic style.
-[ High-pitched chanting ] [ Up-tempo folk music plays ] -[ Shouts ] -And people celebrate what makes them unique as a nation.
In this small Bulgarian town, in a land that uses a different alphabet than most of Europe, the entire population is out on the street for the annual celebration of their Cyrillic script.
[ All chanting in foreign language ] Patriotic hearts beat stronger with the sounds of each nation's unique music, such as klapa music in Croatia... [ Men singing wistfully in foreign language ] -[ Singing in foreign language ] -...or rousing folk songs in Romania.
[ Singing continues ] -[ Shouts ] -In Austria, cradle of so much classical music, waltzing is the national dance, and hearts beat in 3/4 time.
[ Up-tempo waltz plays ] [ Flourish, song ends ] [ Applause ] [ Up-tempo folk music plays ] In the Czech Republic, what could be more festive than listening to lively folk music while enjoying some of the best beer in the world with local friends?
It's a great way to celebrate a good day of travel wherever you are.
[ Men singing in Spanish ] In university towns throughout Spain, roving bands of musicians, like medieval troubadours, are a festival just waiting to happen.
These bands are generally students available for hire.
Here in Salamanca, a folk group serenades a woman preparing for her wedding.
[ Men singing in Spanish ] Colorful traditions are often rooted in a desire to stoke patriotism.
Many European countries, like Norway, are democracies, but still have constitutional monarchs.
And they celebrate their royal heritage with a stirring Changing of the Guard ceremony like this one at London's Buckingham Palace.
These martial spectacles, like here in Sweden, are holdovers from a time when this coordinated show of force helped dispel any thoughts of attack or revolution against the crown.
And you'll see cute, little ceremonies by cute, little countries, like here in Monaco.
In Greece, fierce, if gayly clad, soldiers remind their citizens of their hard-fought independence with rituals at the national capital.
[ Fireworks whistling, exploding ] Even though Europe may be unified as one, each country has its own national pride and national holiday.
The most famous of these celebrates the violent end of a monarchy and the advent of modern democracy in France.
France's national holiday is July 14th, Bastille Day, and that means a big party as all of France indulges in a patriotic bash.
In Paris, that means lots of flags... and lots of parties.
[ Woman singing in French ] Everyone's welcome to join in.
♪♪ Like towns and villages all over the country, each neighborhood here hosts parties until late into the night.
-The local fire department's putting on this party, so I guess it doesn't matter if the fire marshal drops by.
-♪ I got a feelin' ♪ -♪ Tonight's the night ♪ ♪ Let's live it up ♪ ♪ I got my money ♪ ♪ Let's spend it up ♪ ♪ Go out and smash it ♪ ♪ Like, "Oh, my God" ♪ ♪ Jump off that sofa ♪ ♪ Let's kick it up ♪ -Each year, crowds pack the bridges and line the river as a grand fireworks display shares the sky with the Eiffel Tower.
♪♪ [ Crowd cheering ] [ Cheers and applause ] Each country has its iconic celebration.
In France, it's fireworks over the Eiffel Tower.
In Italy, it's a crazy horse race, and, in Spain, it's bullfighting.
Next on our party tour, the biggest bull festival of all -- Pamplona's Running of the Bulls.
[ Flamenco music plays ] Officially known as the Festival of San Fermín, the Running of the Bulls is perhaps Europe's greatest adrenaline festival.
For nine days each July, throngs of visitors, most dressed in the traditional white with red sashes and kerchiefs, come to run with the bulls and a whole lot more.
The festival, which packs this city, has deep roots.
For centuries, the people of this region have honored Saint Fermín, their patron saint, with processions and parties.
He was decapitated in the second century for his faith, and the red bandanas you see everywhere are a distant reminder of his martyrdom.
And, you know, I don't think anybody on this square knows or even cares.
But at the Church of San Fermín, it's a capacity crowd, and there's no question what to wear for this Mass.
To this day, locals look to Fermín, their hometown saint, for protection.
Back out on the streets, it's a party for young and old.
There's plenty of fun for kids, and towering giants add a playful mystique to the festivities.
[ Applause ] The literary giant Ernest Hemingway is celebrated by Pamplona as if he were a native son.
Hemingway first came here for the 1923 Running of the Bulls.
Inspired by the spectacle, he later wrote his bullfighting classic, "The Sun Also Rises."
He said he enjoyed seeing two wild animals running together, one on two legs and the other on four.
Hemingway put Pamplona on the world map.
When he first visited, it was a dusty town of 30,000 with an obscure bullfighting festival.
Now, a million people a year come here for one of the world's great parties.
After dark, the town erupts into a rollicking party scene.
♪♪ While the craziness rages day and night, the city's well-organized, and, even with all the alcohol, it feels in control, and things go smoothly.
Amazingly, in just a few hours, this same street will host a very different spectacle.
♪♪ The Running of the Bulls takes place early each morning.
Spectators claim a vantage point at the crack of dawn.
Early in the morning?
For many of these revelers, it's the end of a long night.
The anticipation itself is thrilling.
Security crews sweep those not running out of the way.
Shop windows and doors are boarded up.
Fencing is set up to keep the bulls on course and protect the crowd.
The runners are called mozos.
While many are just finishing up a night of drinking, others train for the event.
They take the ritual seriously and run every year.
[ Rocket fires ] At 8:00, a rocket is fired, and the mozos take off.
Moments later, a second rocket means the bulls have been released.
They stampede half a mile through the town from their pens to the bullfighting arena.
At full gallop, it goes by fast.
[ Crowd shouting ] Bulls thunder through the entire route in just two and a half minutes.
The mozos try to run in front of the bulls for as long as possible, usually just a few seconds, before diving out of the way.
They say, on a good run, you feel the breath of the bull on the back of your legs.
[ Crowd screaming, shouting ] Cruel as this all seems for the bulls, who scramble for footing on the cobblestones as they rush toward their doom in the bullring, the human participants don't come out unscathed.
Each year, dozens of people are gored or trampled.
Over the last century, 15 mozos have been killed at the event.
♪♪ After it's done, people gather for breakfast and review the highlights on TV.
All day long, local channels replay that morning's spectacle.
[ People shouting in Spanish ] -Ohh!
-The festival's energy courses through the city.
Overlooking the main square, the venerable Café Iruña pulses with music and dance.
[ Upbeat music plays, people singing in Spanish ] While the masses fill the streets, VIPs fill the city's ballrooms.
It seems everyone is caught up in this festival of San Fermín.
Of Europe's many great festivals, one of the wildest is Oktoberfest here in Munich.
Germany's favorite annual beer bash originated about 200 years ago with the wedding reception of King Ludwig I. Ludwig's party was such a hit, they've been celebrating every year since.
Oktoberfest lasts for two weeks from late September into October.
Filling a huge fairground under a dramatic statue representing Bavaria, locals set up about 16 huge tents that can each seat several thousand beer drinkers.
The festivities kick off with grand parades through Munich heading toward the fairgrounds.
The queen of the parade is the Muenchener Kindl, a young woman wearing a monk's robe, riding the lead horse with her beer stein raised.
With thousands of participants, the parade seems endless.
You'll see traditional costumes from every corner of Bavarian society.
Elaborately decorated horses and wagons along with keg-filled floats from each of the city's main breweries entertain the crowds while making their way to the festival grounds.
Revelers fill massive tents, awaiting the grand opening.
After trotting through much of Munich, the parade finally enters the fairgrounds.
Dignitaries are formally greeted, and another Oktoberfest begins.
[ Upbeat German folk music plays ] From now on, for the next two weeks, it's a beer-fueled frenzy of dancing... music... food... and amusements.
There is no better place to see Germans at play.
The tents are surrounded by a fun forest of amusements.
There's a huge Ferris wheel.
The five-loops roller coaster must be the wildest around.
For locals and tourists alike, the rides are unforgettable -- and probably best done before you start drinking your beer.
Inside the tent, the party rages day and night.
Bavarian culture is strong here.
Each of the tents has a personality.
Some are youthful.
Some are more traditional.
It's a festival of German culture.
While there are plenty of tourists, it's really dominated by locals who look forward to this annual chance to celebrate Bavaria and its beer.
[ Whistle blowing ] -[ Shouts in German ] -Fast-moving waitresses hoist armloads of massive glasses.
The beers are served in cherished glass mugs, each holding a liter of their favorite local brew.
The people-watching, Germans letting their hair down, is itself entertaining.
It's a slap-happy world of lederhosen... dirndls... fancy hats... and maidens with flowers in their hair.
It's a multigenerational blowout complete with schmaltzy music and lots of new friendships.
Rivers of beer are drunk and tons of food are eaten -- radishes... pretzels.. lots of sausage... all served by saucy maids.
While I was too tipsy to count, locals claim there are 6 million visitors, 7 million liters of beer drunk, half a million chicken cooked, and 100 oxen eaten.
That's one truly memorable festival.
Just a few weeks after Munich folds up its Oktoberfest tents, Germany celebrates in a different way by rolling out its Christmas markets.
Perhaps the most beloved Christmas market is about a hundred miles away, in Nuernberg.
[ "O Tannenbaum" plays ] Each Christmas, Nuernberg's main square becomes a festive swirl of the heartwarming sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season.
Long a center of toy making in Germany, a woody and traditional spirit that celebrates local artisans prevails.
Nutcrackers are characters of authority -- uniformed, strong-jawed, and able to crack the tough nuts.
Smokers, with their fragrant incense wafting, feature common folk like this village toy maker.
Prune people with their fig body, walnut head, and prune limbs are dolled up in Bavarian folk costumes.
Bakeries crank out the old-fashioned gingerbread, the lebkuchen Nuernberg, still using the original 17th-century recipe.
Back then, Nuernberg was the gingerbread capital of the world, and its love affair with gingerbread lives on.
Shoppers can also munch the famous Nuernberg bratwurst, skinny as your little finger, and sip hot spiced wine.
Like Easter, Christmas is built upon a pagan pre-Christian festival, and we celebrate it today with plenty of pre-Christian rituals, often without even knowing it.
That's a -- -[ Laughs ] -In Salzburg, they shoot big guns to scare away evil spirits.
In the Tyrol, fathers bless their house as their ancestors did.
Families, friends, and food are integral to the French Noel.
[ Sleigh bells ringing ] Winter brings a sense of magical wonder to Germany and Austria.
Italy reveals the sacred nature of the season from its countryside to its grandest church.
Nature, in all its wintry glory, seems to shout out the joy of the season in Switzerland.
And everywhere, Christmas is celebrated with family as, together, Europe remembers the quiet night that that holiest family came to be.
The European Christmas season is long and festive.
Rather than counting down the shopping days left, it's all about traditions and saints' days.
For example, December 13 is big in Norway.
It's Santa Lucia Day, one of the darkest days of winter, and an important part of the Scandinavian Christmas season.
All over Nordic Europe, little candle-bearing Santa Lucias are bringing light to the middle of winter and the promise of the return of summer.
These processions are led by a young Lucia wearing a crown of lights.
[ Children singing in Norwegian ] -♪ Santa Lucia ♪ ♪ Santa Lucia ♪ -This home has housed widows and seniors for over 200 years, and today, the kindergartners are bringing on the light in more ways than one.
The children have baked the traditional Santa Lucia saffron buns, the same ones these seniors baked when they were kindergartners.
Taking their cue from Santa Lucia, Norwegians, cozy in their homes, brighten their long, dark winters with lots of candles, white lights -- you'll never see a colored one -- and lots of greenery.
And high in Switzerland where the churches are small and the villages huddle below towering peaks, the mighty Alps seem to shout the glory of God.
Up here, Christmas fills a wintry wonderland with good cheer.
[ Bells jingling ] In these villages, traditions are strong.
And warmth is a priority.
Stoves are small, so firewood is, too.
♪♪ My family has arrived for a Swiss Alps Christmas.
They've joined me here in the tiny village of Gimmelwald.
Our friends Ollie and Maria and their kids are giving my kids, Andy and Jackie, a good lesson in high-altitude Christmas fun.
♪♪ Ollie's taking us high above his village on a quest to find and cut the perfect Christmas tree.
♪♪ -What do you think?
-I like it a lot, Ollie.
-Yeah, this is a good tree.
I think we should cut it.
[ Indistinct conversations ] -All right!
[ Indistinct conversations ] -Yeah.
-Still high above Gimmelwald, we're stopping in a hut for a little fondue.
[ Laughter ] -It goes too far.
-Fondue seems perfect in winter if you've come in from the cold.
For them, it sets the tone for a warm and convivial time.
Combined with good friends and family during the Christmas season, we have all the ingredients for a delightful, little Alpine festival.
Before we know it, the light outside begins to fade.
Here's to a happy Christmas.
[ Laughs ] ♪♪ -As the sun sets, we've got our tree and enjoy a fairy-tale ride home to Gimmelwald.
[ Laughter, shouting ] ♪♪ [ Laughter and whooping ] -In every part of Europe and in every season, in big cities and in remote farmsteads, from timeless traditions... to modern celebrations... people embrace life through festivals.
They celebrate what the season brings with great parties.
They bargain with God and show their faith with festival rituals.
They remember the accomplishments and lives of their forebearers.
They enjoy fun-loving opportunities to dress in traditional costumes and wave their national flags, all the while gorging themselves with great feasts and lubricating themselves with the local drink.
And all of it may be just an excuse for the very human need to celebrate family, friends, and culture year after year.
[ Indistinct conversations ] Festivals help keep Europe's rich heritage alive.
As we've seen, they bring families and communities together, and everybody's welcome.
They create lifelong memories, and are flat-out lots of fun.
Thanks for joining us.
I'm Rick Steves, encouraging you to enjoy festive journeys.
Keep on travelin'.