Carnaval, one of the most enjoyable holidays that Spain has to offer, takes place during the first and second weekends of February. Spain's Carnaval originated in Cádiz, a gorgeous beach town located in the southwest part of Spain on the Atlantic Ocean. While many other cities in Spain also celebrate this ‘fiesta’, the two most elaborate festivals can be found in its birth town and in the Canary Islands.
Carnaval’s history has both religious influences, like all Spanish holiday, and cultural ties with other European countries. It purposefully falls right before the start of Lent, a Christian observance, in order for its celebrators to be able to indulge without remorse before a time of sacrifice. The cultural ties date all the way back to the 15th century. During this period of time there was a large presence of Italians in Cádiz, particularly Genoese merchants. Many of the typical decorations that can be seen at Carnaval today, such as masks and confetti, have come from Italian descent.
Between the creation of Carnival in the 15th century and the year 1977, when Spain was freed from Franco’s rule, government authorities tried to prohibit the celebration or at least censor Carnval's practices, but they did not succeed. One aspect in particular that was unsuccessfully censored was the performances put on by musical ensembles, which were unfavorable to authorities because of the political satire and irony written in their lyrics. These acts make up one of Carnaval's most important hallmarks. They are divided into four groups: coros, comparsas, chirigotas, and cuartetos and have distinct characteristics. The first, coros, is a choir that contains the largest number of people, around 25, and the group as a whole contains voices with varying pitches and tones. The second group sings songs filled with feeling and emotion that is displayed through their profound lyrics. Chirigotas, the most well-known of the four, sing songs with the purpose of making people laugh with witty phrases that contain double meanings and often refer to political humor. Lastly, cuartetos, are composed of four people who put on more of a drama performance than a choir show. These four groups practice year round and often do tours after Carnaval throughout the Andulusian region.
Apart from its history, what is Carnaval like today? It’s all about enjoying life, one of the most obvious and important aspects of Spanish culture. The entire purpose of the weekend is to get dressed up in a costume, drink, eat and spend time with family and friends. There are activities to do all throughout the day and night. A typical day at Carnaval is spent hanging out in the Plaza de Minas to watch the main performances and then later wandering the streets to see what others you can find.
Un coro with costumes representing characters from the movie "Inside Out".
As a non-native Spanish speaker it is nearly impossible to understand the songs, but lyrics aside, the costumes, energy, and atmosphere still make the experience worthwhile.
On Saturday night there is a massive botellón in the Plaza de la Catedral. A botellón is an activity where people congregate in public areas to drink alcohol, like a park or parking lot. Botellones aren't as common as they were in the past and there are laws prohibiting them, but it seems as if during Carnival the chains are let loose and none of that matters. The plaza was filled with people from one side to the other, in the middle different vendors selling food, and around the perimeter the restaurants moved their bars outside. It’s a great chance to join the celebration, admire everyone's costumes and get to know people from all parts of Spain and even the world.
To conclude Carnaval’s activities there is a parade Sunday night. People line up on the sides while little kids fill the middle of the street, throwing confetti and firecrackers and wait for the parade to begin. After about two hours following the intended start time (remember, this is Spain, nothing begins on time), enormous floats with all different themes and intricate details come rolling down the street. Imagine: a giant rooster, a giant ram, ‘forest creatures’, etc. It’s obvious that many people dedicated a lot time and effort to make each one so perfect.
My favorite float
At Carnaval, the weather was warm and the ambiance was inviting. Combining history with a celebration of life leaves us with one of the most entertaining holidays in Spain. Carnaval is a true representation of some of Spain’s core values: socializing and putting happiness above all. Until next year!
The auxiliars of IES Luis García Berlanga: Giraffe - me, Lion - Tamara, Bulldog - Teresa, & Parrot - Jade.