The week before Lent is carnival time in Spain. There is no one way that carnival is celebrated in Spain - each one of the below cities has a slightly different style. You will find some sort of celebration in most cities in Spain, but the following three are the best places to be.
1. Carnival in Tenerife, Spain
Each year a different theme is chosen and the carnival kicks off with the presentation of the Carnival Queen Contestants. Days of band and murga (comedic folk singers) contests and concerts follow and culminate in the Grand Parade. Though the Grand Parade is really the highlight of the Carnival season, more events follow. Festivities focus on Santa Cruz to begin with but gradually spread out to other areas as each town and village celebrates its own fiesta.
Apart from the singing, dancing, parading and joking by organised groups there are also live bands and dancing in the open air for everyone most nights from around 2300 until daylight. There are official stalls all around the streets selling drinks and ‘tapas’ to the thirsty, hungry revellers, these stalls and their positions are bid for by tender each year and sell for amazing amounts of money to help offset the huge costs of carnival. All manner of other events are grouped under the banner of carnaval from football to anta Cruz to begin with but gradually spread out to other areas as each town and village celebrates its own fiesta.
Apart from the singing, dancing, parading and joking by organised groups there are also live bands and dancing in the open air for everyone most nights from around 2300 until daylight. There are official stalls all around the streets selling drinks and ‘tapas’ to the thirsty, hungry revellers, these stalls and their positions are bid for by tender each year and sell for amazing amounts of money to help offset the huge costs of carnival. All manner of other events are grouped under the banner of carnaval from football to clay pigeon shooting to vintage car rallies, there is literally something for everyone.
Tenerife carnival is finished with the burial of the sardine; a huge papier-mache sardine is paraded through the city followed by hundreds of weeping ‘widows’ this gives the Tenerife male population one last chance to dress as widowed ladies, all in black, the only thing is that their idea of ‘widows weeds’ is mini dress and fishnet tights! Woe betide any good looking young tourist innocently watching proceedings, he’s likely to be showered with kisses from the widows. The sardine is then burnt accompanied by the inevitable massive firework display.
2. Carnival in Cadiz, Spain
The carnival in Cadiz has a healthy dose of music and comedy added to the mix. As one of Spain's major ports during the 16th century, Cadiz copied the carnival of Venice, a city with which it had much trade, and since then it has become the liveliest and most dazzling carnival town in mainland Spain, famous for its amusing and creative characters and satirical song groups.
Cádiz is home to mainland Spain's premier carnival. In fact, numerous groups and associations throughout the city - along with the city hall, of course - spend the entire year preparing for the next carnival. Such dedication does, therefore, deserve more than just a weekend of festivities, which is why this most ancient of European cities keeps the celebration going for at least a good 10 days.
Newcomers to the Cádiz carnival will probably first notice the elaborate costumes which are on par with those of any great festival of this nature. However, music is possibly the most outstanding feature at this particular marathon event with locals working hard throughout the year to develop their acts and perfect their performances.
Here's a look at the main types of performances
Chirigotas - These are humorous groups that perform satirical pieces about everything from politics to current events.
Choirs - These groups of singers may be funny at times, serious at others. They tend to be out and about, entertaining people in the streets accompanied by stringed instruments.
Comparsas - These are the most serious singers at the festival. They are known for their more classic musical talents and the more serious content of their songs.
Quartets - They don't have to stick to the traditional four - but then, this is the carnival, after all. Time to break the rules! And they are most often accompanied by none other than a kazoo and the beating of sticks.
Romanceros - These are the solo acts at that roam the streets to entertain visitors and locals alike.
3. Carnival in Sitges, Spain
The large gay community in Sitges has made the their carnival one of the wildest affairs in Spain.
The carnival in Sitges starts with the Dijous Gras, which means Fat Thursday. Resembling the famous Mardi Gras, on this day the king of the carnival, the Carnestoltes, arrives and starts the festivities. Of course queens are also elected during the carnival in Sitges, the so-called reinas, wearing amazing costumes and masks and following the king’s parade which is called Gran Rua.
People dance on the street, fully celebrating the spirit of carnival and enjoying traditional local dishes during this festival. One of these dishes is the Xató, a salad with cold Cod and a catalan sauce, which has different recipes in many towns of the area, which is called Ruta del Xató.
The ending of the festival period is marked by the Entierro de Sardina, where the Sardine, a giant statue is burned at the beach and buried there. As a symbol of the end of the good times, during the 40 days of Lent no fish or sweets are consumed. This custom is well-known in different countries as well, but Sitges adds its own style and version to this carnival tradition; attracting many visitors each year who admire and gaze upon the traditional dances, the amazing costumes and masks and the local cuisine in Sitges during this festival.
Gay Carnival in Sitges
Sitges also helds a second carnival, parallel to the Carnival de Sitges; the gay carnival of Sitges. Shows and events such as the Glamour Night, Carnival Bingo or Tourist Night are organized and promise fun and excitement during the festival time.
Visiting the Carnival in Sitges means experiencing a unique festival in a town situated directly next to the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by the Natural Park of Garraf. And although the carnival was prohibited during the Franco regime in Spain, the tradition survived and today displays itself with all pride.