Carnival in Spain
Although the date is flexible, Carnival in Spain is usually in February.
Carnival in Spain is a time of celebration and merrymaking just before the start of the Catholic season of Lent.
You can enjoy the celebrations throughout Spain, with the most famous being held in Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
In this post, I will talk about Carnival in these cities and Catalonia, as it’s the region where I grew up and celebrated Carnival for many years.
Why go to Rio de Janeiro when you can experience Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife?
The Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the second-largest Carnival in the world.
The main event during the carnival celebrations is the Queen’s Gala.
Candidates wear impressive handmade costumes, surrounded by a large iron structure equipped with wheels to move, as they can weigh around 400 kg.
There are three categories of Queen: The Carnival Queen (young adults), the Elderly Queen and the Kids’ Queen.
In this promo of the Carnival Queen Gala in the Canarian television, you can see participants from previous years.
Carnival is a celebration to enjoy on the streets, and in this city, there are lots of street parties, but the second event you cannot miss in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the Coso de Carnaval, the Carnival parade.
This is a big parade where comparsas, groups of musicians, singers, and dancers, like the escolas de samba in Rio, flood the streets with their colourful costumes and contagious tunes.
I’m sure this city has nothing to envy Rio when celebrating Carnival. In fact, both cities are twinned because of this tradition.
Cádiz, the funniest city in Spain during Carnival
I know. This is very categorical.
But if there’s something people from Cádiz are known for, it’s their sense of humour.
Particularly during Carnival.
The Concurso Oficial de Agrupaciones Carnavalescas (COAC) is the official name of this song contest, made up of four modalities:
This is probably the most popular outside Cádiz.
Made up of around 12 people, their coplas (songs) use irony, puns, double meanings, and lots of humour to talk about local people and events, but also about trending topics and people from different spheres, from politics to sport or celebrities.
The kazoo, popularly known as pito de carnaval, is the instrument used to mark the beginning of a new copla.
Did you know that Ringo Starr used this instrument in a version of You’re Sixteen?
Comparsas are usually made up of 15 people, and their songs relate to more serious topics.
In this video, you can see the performance of the comparsa La ciudad invisible, broadcasted by local television channel.
Although cuarteto means quartet, groups competing in this modality can consist of 3-5 people.
The cuarteto is considered the hardest modality, combining cuplés (the part of the song with the most significant humoristic charge) with short sketches to make the audience laugh throughout the performance.
And that’s not easy!
The coro (choir) is the modality with the highest number of participants, up to 45. Their songs feature a combination of humour, criticism, and compliments, usually talking about Cádiz and its people.
Curious about how a choir sounds? Enjoy the performance by Los Negros, one of the finalists of this year’s edition of the COAC.
The COAC contest has evolved with society.
An increasing number of women participate in mixed or women-only groups, and they get groups from other parts of Andalusia and Spain every year.
This year, and for the first time in the history of the COAC, a group from outside Andalusia entered the semi-finals: the chirigota Fariña de mis ojos, with coplas that combine mockery of the world of drug capos with tributes to the Cádiz Carnival.
Carnestoltes, the King of Rascals
In Catalonia, Carnival is also called Carnestoltes.
Carnestoltes is the Carnival King, a rascal who invites you to be wild and do crazy things.
That’s why he’s known as El rei dels poca-soltes (The King of Rascals).
He is represented with a human-size dummy made of paper and straw and is in charge of opening the Carnival celebrations.
For almost a week, everything is permitted (please don’t take this literally!).
In schools, he gives children a different order to follow daily, known as the consignes de Carnestoltes (Carnival orders).
These are some of the consignes I had to follow when I was a child:
Go to school in your PJs.
Wear two different shoes.
Wear two different socks.
Paint your hair.
Wear a clown nose.
Paint your face (like a clown, a vampire, an animal, whatever you want).
The idea behind the consignes is to prepare for the great Carnival party that all schools celebrate on the Friday before Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday, the end of Carnival in Spain
Ash Wednesday marks the end of Carnival in Spain and the beginning of the Cuaresma (Lent).
But before that, people celebrate the Entierro de la sardina (burial of the sardine) with a big parade.
(It’s a funeral parade!).
In some cities, people dress in mourning and plañideras (women that used to cry at funerals) cry as never before while they carry a giant, dead sardine.
The end of Carnival is a tragedy! 😂
Although we call it an entierro, we burn the sardine.
The origin of this tradition is still being determined, but the idea behind it is the use of fire to symbolise the end of a period and a new beginning.
As per our Catholic tradition, it means the end of fun and excess, the beginning of Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert and enduring temptation by Satan, which will end with Easter.
As a fun fact, in Málaga they celebrate the Entierro del boquerón (burial of the anchovy), as people from Málaga are called boquerones, (anchovies in Spanish).
Besides the sardine burial in Catalonia, the Carnestoltes is judged.
Someone needs to put an end to his life of excess!
The verdict, as you imagined, is guilty, and he’s burnt.
I hope this post helped you learn more about one of the liveliest traditions in Spain. If you want to learn more about Spanish traditions, culture and translation, drop by this blog, Words from the Wardrobe.
Looking for a crazy plan?
Enjoy Carnival in Spain next year!
See you for the next post!