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Till next summer do us part

A Galician town is recreating the annual Celtic wedding festival of Lughnasadh, which sees couples get married for just one year

Forever seemed too long for the Celts. For them, matrimony was a temporary, and equal, union between men and women that had to be renewed and strengthened throughout the years. Therefore, they pragmatically scheduled weddings at the end of August, right before winter, with the aim of sharing the tough times in the cold together. Every summer, couples could renew their vowels or separate. They called it "Lughnasadh," and it is one of the four big festivals in the annual Celtic calendar, along with Samhain on November 1.

The town of Cedeira in Galicia has embraced this Celtic ritual, offering it up as a tourist attraction- a chance to say goodbye to the summer and exploit its meiga tradition of witchery. Last weekend, the self-proclaimed druid "Dos Ártabros," Manuel Aneiros, married around 20 couples on the town's A Magdalena beach for the third edition of Lughnasadh.

At the first event in 2009, Aneiros, the promoter of this Celtic revival, gathered eight couples, a number that went up to 15 in 2010. This year, almost 30 couples signed up- even if not all of them showed up. In the end, 25 couples- from Peru, Madrid, Terrasa, Bilbao, Sevilla, Ponferrada, Ourense, Boiro, Fene and Ferrol- made it last Saturday to the Celtic village in Cedeira, which is situated close to a forest, at the end of the beach. Dressed in- supposedly- medieval Celtic outfits, but really looking more like something out of The Lord of the Rings saga, the soon-to-be-married pairs paraded around the streets during the morning and in the afternoon walked around the pine grove, reconverted into a Celtic village where various groups camped in small huts made up of branches, wood and plastic that they named after the likes of Clan Breogán, Triskel and Lian Clan. The most impressive construction was one made of adobe bricks and straw that included a well and hearth.

At midnight on Saturday, Aneiros the druid put all the couples in the center of a circle made of sand and lit by torches. Joining in were the colorful helpers: a blonde woman acting as the witness who called herself the Lady of the Lake and a short man with viking horns operating as the altar boy. One after the other, to the sound of Galician bagpipes, Aneiros dos Ártabros called each couple up and placed a flower crown on their head as he proclaimed their annual union that would last until the next Lughnasadh.

The ceremony carries a strong sentimental meaning but doesn't carry any legal obligations. The satisfied newlyweds were grateful for the applause they received from the almost 500 strangers who gathered in the sand enclosure for the ceremony- Germán from León and Peggy from Peru were so enthusiastic about the Celtic mismatch that they even decided to remarry this August for the third time. Yoana and Daniel also repeated their engagement for a second consecutive year- "the best part was when the druid repeated that men and women are equal," said Yoana. After three years together, Raquel, 17, and Luis, 21, from Ferrol, showed up for their first wedding dressed in white, simply because they felt it was "beautiful and romantic."

Among all the happy brides and grooms, a precocious couple of two eight-year-olds made an appearance, as did a pair of 63-year-olds. Cedeira residents José Ríos and Herminia got back together to continue a brief juvenile romance begun 40 years before and decided to celebrate in Celtic style. "We are making the most of life," explains José, a local wood contractor.

The wedding reception menu featured roasted wild boar, curd cheese and honey for ?15 a plate and lasted until the early hours of Sunday, culminating with a big queimada ritual (the preparing of a flaming Galician punch) with an extended version of the accompanying spell and the druid in full trance. "You can't read about it, you have to describe it from memory," he says in a scholarly tone.

Aneiros, who hosted the themed wedding of the singer Karina in Santo Andrés de Teixido a few years ago, says he "keeps more than 400 objects, books and documents" for a museum about witches that never took shape "because it lacked interest" and didn't get enough help from institutions. Cedeira town hall, which genuinely considered the project, used its economic difficulties as an excuse, limiting itself to financing the posters for Lughnasadh III.

For José Rodríguez and Xavier Quintelo of the local Postineros clan, the Celtic ceremony is a great excuse to "assemble 25 friends and go out on the streets with a couple of rabbits and quails to roast, half of them purchased and half of them hunted." They also claim to have put up their fort just by crossing tree trunks, "without any nails." Inside, however, they placed a modern fridge full of spirits of the not-quite-so-Celtic kind.