Everyone has heard of Carnaval in Brazil, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but did you know that this same holiday celebration is a HUGE deal in Spain too? I didn’t and I have to say it’s like nothing I’d ever seen before! It’s like Halloween on steroids with parades that rival Macy’s famous one—IN EVERY CITY across the entire country! It’s spectacular, creative, bright, funny, dazzling, musical, entertaining and wonderful. And it’s coming up in less than two weeks!
It’s such a big deal, as a matter of fact, that schools and most businesses close for a 4 day break—well, two days are always Saturday and Sunday, but many people also get Monday and Tuesday off. In the bigger cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Tenerife, Gran Canarias, and Cádiz, people begin celebrating as early as the Thursday before, which this year means February 27th–six fun-filled days. And of course, people plan their costumes months, if not years, in advance.
How long have these celebrations been going on? According to my friends at Wikipedia, the first Carnavales date back 5,000 years, to the times of the Egyptians and the Sumerians. They were festivals in homage to a god. The Carnavales de Cádiz, some of the most famous in the country, were first documented in the late 1500’s, at which point they were already spoke about large Carnaval celebrations in which the religious folk did not participate.
What makes these celebrations so different, you may be wondering? For one thing, the costumes are surreal. The vast majority are NOT store-bought, but rather hand-made. And a more talented country of tailors and seamstresses I have never seen. It turns out that nearly everyone knows how to sew well. For another, people (most often groups of friends or entire families) all dress in the same theme—so you might see a herd of punk, psychedelic dinosaurs, or a family of gorillas in pinafores, or rows of children dressed as colorful spools of thread–these last are shown in the link to El Toboso which I also mention below. I marveled at the costumes every single one of the dozen years I spent in Spain— I always astounded by both the creativity of the designs and the skill in crafting them.
Another reason Carnaval is so much fun is that everyone is dressed up—from tiny tots to the much older and wiser denizens, and everyone in between. It’s a huge national party, with tons of music, always including the song “Carnaval, carnaval te quiero”—“I love Carnaval”. And the parades, as I mentioned earlier, are exquisite! Look, for example, at this tiny village, El Toboso, which is close to Toledo, near Madrid. It’s only got 2,219 inhabitants and it seems that every single one of them is dancing in the street! So, as you can imagine, in a big city, the parades are not to be missed!
Carnaval, te quiero.
La, la, la, la, la, la la
Bailaremos sin parar
En el mundo entero…