I’m going to take a break from blogging about American national parks and go back to Spain for a little bit. I realized I have blogged very little about Spanish holidays and the traditions that go along with it. There are many Spanish holidays celebrated here that are not celebrated back in the US or they aren’t celebrated on as grand a scale. One of these holidays is Carnaval (which is basically the same thing as Mardi Gras celebrated in New Orleans).

Carnaval is a festive season that occurs before Lent and is mostly celebrated in countries that are rooted in Catholicism. People dress up in costumes and there is usually a parade of some sort. Back in the olden days, during the Lenten season, people were not allowed to have parties or eat rich foods. In order to start off Lent with a bang, it became obvious the most appropriate way to do this was to hold a giant party that the whole town was invited to. And thus, Carnaval was born.

Spain is not the only country to celebrate Carnaval. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals Carnaval is celebrated in several European countries and in various places in South America (most famously in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil–this is on my bucket list by the way). Arguably the most famous Carnaval in Spain is held down south in Andalusia in Cadiz. It seems the city’s existence revolves around this holidays if the entry on Wikipedia is to be believed! Other regions where Carnaval is really big are the Canary Islands and Catalonia.

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. The Madrid parade is much smaller!

One aspect of the Carnaval in Cadiz that my Spanish roommate mentioned are the “chirigotas.” Chirigotas are choirs that sing witty and satiric songs during Carnaval–and they obviously do it dressed in costume. There is an important competition ever year held in Cadiz during Carnaval in which chirigotas sing for the top prize. The songs are usually about politics and current events in the news. I would have loved to go down to Cadiz to experience Carnaval for myself but I don’t have time this year. Someday it will happen though!

Carnaval in Cadiz

Carnaval is more low key in Madrid, but that doesn’t mean Madrilenos don’t party. There have been various activities planned by the city since late last week and up until Tuesday in celebation of Carnaval. I discovered that there was actually going to be a parade so my two friends and I went down to Plaza de Cibeles, one of Madrid’s main squares, to check it out. (I have no idea how I didn’t know about this last year. Obviously I was hitting the books a little too hard getting my master’s). We had to wait awhile for the parade to pass (which is always slightly annoying when you are being pushed on all sides by a crowd of people), but when it finally did, it was a lot of fun to watch! I’m glad I took the effort to go see it. It may not have been as big as something as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, but I still enjoyed it.

The theme for this year’s Madrid Carnaval season was mythological beasts. I didn’t understand half the costumes but I don’t think it really matters. The whole point is to be dressed in costume. I’m sorry for the blurry quality of the pictures.

arriving at Plaza de Cibeles right across from the Palacio de Comunicaciones to watch the parade

the anticipation builds.

blurry but these are some awesome wolf costumes!

fire floats

a giant fish costume

demonic bull float

camel float

Cibeles fountain with Palacio de Comunicaciones in the background

Calle Alcala at night

One more thing about the Carnaval season in Spain that I don’t think happens anywhere else (aside from the chirigotas in Cadiz): the closing ceremonies of Carnaval involving the burial of a sardine.

taken from Google Images

No, I’m not kidding. On Ash Wednesday, a group of people dressed in black parade around the streets of Madrid with a sardine in a coffin. I’m a little unclear on whether if it’s a real sardine or a fake one. Anyways, the procession goes around the streets of Madrid and ends at a predetermined place where a ceremony is held before the sardine is buried, marking the official end of Carnaval and the beginning of Lent. Apparently people really get into it and “widows” will actually cry, dressed up in mourning attire.

Yes, I know it sounds weird. I can’t even begin to fathom actually seeing it carried out.

Indeed, Carnaval is so important, that on Friday the kids and the teachers at my school dressed up for the occasion. They paraded around the school for the parents to see and take pictures. It’s basically the same thing we do in the States for Halloween. I dressed up as a hippie, but I didn’t bother bringing my camera so there is no photographic evidence (just as well).

Happy Carnaval season everyone!