Carnival time in
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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