Originally published April 2, 2013 at The Los Angeles Beat
What are you to do if you find your llama has a bit of the devil in him? How do you assure that your cow never runs dry of milk? Who do you turn to if you simply want to keep your beloved family pet healthy and happy?
The Blessing of the Animals, a yearly springtime ritual held downtown on Olvera Street has been an answer to these kind of questions in Los Angeles for 83 years.
Whether you are devoutly religious, merely superstitious or just the kind of person who loves weird festivals held for esoteric or arcane beliefs, this annual event is worth checking out.
The celebration begins with a procession of animals led by the highest power of Catholicism in our city, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose H. Gomez. Among those lining up after him along the cobblestone plaza are the expected common household pets of course — dogs (many dressed in fanciful finery), cats, birds, guinea pigs and rabbits. There is also a healthy mix of barnyard animals — goats, chickens, sheep, horses and cows and a lesser, but more impressive scattering of more obscure animals, namely iguanas, snakes, tortoises and even llamas.
All animals, led by their owners, follow the Archbishop to his flower festooned pulpit at the end of the plaza where plastic tubs filled with holy water await. Each animal proceeds past his holiness and is doused with a heavy sprinkling of the magic water. Thankfully there are no Exorcist-like reactions and the attitude of the soaked animals is generally sublime.
We are reminded by Gomez that, according to the bible, animals were the first to become aware of Christ’s resurrection, therefore this festival has been organized annually on the Saturday before Easter Sunday to bless and honor them. Although this tradition goes back to 1930 in Los Angeles, world wide it has been taking place since the 4th century, apparently started by St. Anthony of Abad, who is known as the patron saint of the animal kingdom.
True to the celebratory nature of this event many of the animal cages or carriers are decorated with spring flowers and bows while many of the dogs wear fancy ribbons and some are even dressed in costumes. Also spotted were pets dyed Easter egg colors. During the Blessing of the Animals perhaps just possessing the belief that the miraculous holy water can truly protect your pet is all that is necessary. If the blessing works you can choose to be scientific about it and write it off as self-fulfilling prophecy or maybe, just maybe, you can believe that there is real magic in the air. Whichever way you may lean toward, the bottom line is that it is still a nice excuse to get the animals out of the house, yard or barn. So write it on your calendar for next year.
Blessing of the Animals: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, Olvera Street, L.A., CA 90012; Occurs annually the Saturday proceeding Easter Sunday.