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Carnival time in Spain

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Carnival, originally a Spring pagan rite, and later incorporated by the church as a farewell to excesses in preparation for the Lenten Fast, has a special significance in Spain. The celebration of carnival was prohibited during the 40 years of the Franco dictatorship, although in certain parts of Spain there were clandestine celebrations under the auspices of “the local Cadiz festival” or secret masked balls in private homes. When this period ended the celebration of carnival returned with all its splendor.

Las fiestas de Carnaval in Spain depend on the liturgical calendar, as in the rest of the world, usually taking place sometime during the month of February and centering around the week before Ash Wednesday. Although not as famous or televised in the world as the celebrations in Rio, Venice or New Orleans, Carnival time is one of Spain’s main popular festivities which is celebrated nationwide with street parades, costumes, beauty pageants, music and masks. 

Among the carnival celebrations in Spain the most well known are the ones in Cadiz on the mainland, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, each one with a characteristic way of celebrating this non-stop fiesta in Springtime.


The Andalusian city of Cádiz hosts the most popular urban celebrations. Year after year, thousands of Spaniards head to the Southern capital to enjoy days of music, wine drinking and fun, while listening to the murgas or charangas, local  groups who make fun of politicians and VIP's and review the year's events.

Costume is king. Thousands of locals and many more visitors to the city don masks and costumes. The originality and creativity of individual costumes, as well as groups of family and friends dressed alike, are astounding. Tens of thousands of people unite to enjoy costumes, music and beautiful and elaborate floats as a multicolor parade moves along the main avenue of the city lasts various hours.

Choral contests are held where similarly costumed groups, of varying number and style, perform amusing and satirical music lyrics to the great satisfaction of the public. A hundred groups may prepare year long for this moment, but only 4 groups of each type are included in the great final.

The principal groupings are:

Coros. The largest of the 4 types of groups, they can have up to 45 people. They are divided into participants that sing and those that play a musical instrument. They use mandolins, guitars, banjos... They usually sing tangos but also couplets and a mixture of styles of songs.

Comparsas. These are the most serious of the groupings. Their specialty is pasodoble and they organize in groups of 15 members. The song lyrics can be satirical and vindictive and they tend towards a more emotive and poetical tone instead of the silly mocking tone of the chirigotas.  

Chirigotas. Comical and outrageous, these groups are the complete opposite of the comparsas. Laughter is guaranteed as their 12 members try to characterize reality to the point of exaggeration. They use whistles, as well as other simple percussion type instruments (cajas y bombos), creating more noisy accompaniment than musical. They perform couplets recited in the form of tongue twisters with an amusing satirical tone.

Cuarteto. Modern in comparison with the other groupings. From 3-5 participants, they include parody, couplets and/or a mixture of styles and songs. From prose to verse accompanied by the sounds of frequent whistle blowing and pounding. 

Ilegales. Informal groups of family or friends who perform whatever, whenever and prefer to amuse roaming on their own instead of participating formally in the contest.


The spectacle of carnival in Tenerife is the most well known in Europe. There is an established theme each year, last year being “the crazy 1920’s” and this year’s “the bewitching Far East”.  During 3 and a half weeks the city dons its mask to enjoy the celebration. Different stages throughout the city where groups interpret songs and dances with elaborate costumes. Parades and dancing in the street highlighted by numerous and varied costume contests with the prize going to the most beautiful, extravagant or original dress for individuals or groups. 

Las Palmas

One of the most spectacular characteristics of the festival in Las Palmas is the center stage in Santa Catalina Park where you can see picturesque parades and performances and a multitude of colorful costume contests. Murgas perform musical parades amusing the crowds with lyrics full of critical satire of the years events. Las comparsas animate the carnival atmosphere with a colorful Caribbean beat. Here the festivities are also centered around a central theme, last year the “Caribbean beat” and this year “Rock and Roll”. A special event elects the Queen of the Carnival, with two additional modalities for little girls and older women.


Escuela Internacional Central Registration Office
C/ Talamanca, 10, 28807 Alcala de Henares (Madrid), Spain
Telephone: +34 91 883 12 64, Fax: +34 91 883 13 01
e-mail: info@escuelai.com

Cities in Spain
Salamanca - a walk
Shopping Salamanca
Nightlife - Malaga
Places to go - Alcalá
Excursion - Segovia
Excursion - Siguenza
Trip to Matavenero
Celebrations / Events
Semana Cervantina
Carnival in Spain
April Fair-Sevilla
San Isidro in Madrid
Fiesta del Pilar
Alcalá Film Festival
Christmas in Spain
Spanish Christmas carols
Picasso Museum
Flamenco in Malaga
Cervantes in Alcalá