Spain is known around the world for its many fiestas, among other things.
The truth is, there’s a good reason for it. In Spain there aren’t many long periods of time without celebrations
in one of the small towns, cities, or all over the country at the same time.
Even between Christmas and Holy Week, which can be considered Spain’s two biggest holidays, Spaniards find a reason to celebrate: carnival. During this time, on your way to school or work you might see Superman waiting at a stoplight, a pirate crossing the street, or even a zombie descending into the metro.
Carnival in Spain doesn’t have the elegance of Venice or the rhythms of Brazil; it’s an event all its own where people young and old have a great time without breaking the bank.
The origins of carnival date back many centuries
. The celebrations that spread across Europe during the Middle Ages were strongly tied to religion. During the 40 days of Lent, Christians were deprived of certain pleasures like eating meat, doing fun things, etc. That’s why just before Lent starts, each year people celebrate a few days of non-stop partying to eat as much meat as possible and have all the fun they can before the 40 days of abstention. Over time, what began as a way of preparing for Lent became what we know today as carnival.
In Spain, carnival usually begins with a pregón
, an opening speech by an important local person or a celebrity. After the speech, the days of street parades, costume contests, street theater, and general partying
Carnival comes to an end with the Entierro de la Sardina
tradition, celebrated the day before Lent begins. The Burial of the Sardine is a parody of a funeral in which a large figure of a sardine is set aflame and burned to symbolically mark the farewell to life’s pleasures and the sad arrival of Lent.
REGIONAL VARIATIONS ON CARNIVAL CELEBRATIONS
The carnival experience varies a great deal depending on where in Spain you are.
In the north, antroido in Galicia and arntroxu in Asturias
are related to Celtic pagan traditions. Meanwhile, the Galician peligqueiros
are the modern version of shamans with animal masks.
Catalonia also pulls out all the stops to celebrate carnival.
The city of Solsona holds a donkey hanging (no animals are harmed!) and in Vilanova i la Geltrú you can see a spectacular merengada
, a battle fought by throwing meringue pies; the moixo foguer,
a man dressed as a bird; and the arrivo,
the arrival of King Carnival.
Ciudad Rodrigo, a city very close to Salamanca, has one of the most original traditions in all of Spain
. El carnaval del toro
combines carnival with another one of Spain’s most typical traditions: bulls.
That said, there’s no doubt that carnival is celebrated most intensely in Cadiz in Andalusia and Tenerife in the Canary Islands
. These cities’ carnival celebrations are a lot more like those in Brazil and the Caribbean. Music and live bands play a much bigger role than in other places in Spain, and the dancing and costumes are the true showstoppers. Especially in Andalusia, the two musical groups that really stand out are the comparsas
(troupes) and the chirigotas
(comic carnival bands).
perform music and dances influenced by Latin America, while the chiringotas
sing practically without instruments. In the chiringotas,
the members themselves are the ones who make up the songs, which usually include biting critiques of society, current events, or politics in general.
Every city holds a special gala to choose their own Carnival Queen
, but the most famous and important one takes place in Tenerife. The competition is a lot like a beauty pageant, but they also judge the originality of the outfits: dazzling dresses built with various frames and even wheels because they can weigh up to 450 pounds.
Now that you know all about carnival in Spain, the only thing left to do is put on your mask and join the party!