Best Fiestas in Spain: Carnival

March 4, 2019
verin entroido cigarron ourense galicia carnaval carnival spain costume
One of the most popular and traditional fiestas in Spain is Carnival. This colorful and cheerful festival takes over cities and towns all around the country every year in February. The week leading up to Lent is a time for putting a costume, dancing to Caribbean music to forget all your woes and have fun. Sounds appealing, right?

In a lot of places in Europe, we celebrate carnival as the primary occasion for dressing up instead of Halloween. That's why those who celebrate Halloween here only wear scary costumes. Spain hosts some Europe’s biggest and best Carnival festivals which I'm going to tell you about today.

Without further ado, welcome to the complete guide to Carnival in Spain. I'm going to cover all the things you need to know about this traditional festival:
  • History of Carnival
  • When is Carnival celebrated?
  • Best Carnivals in Spain
  • Carnival food
  • Carnival music
  • Useful vocabulary
Tip: listen to this playlist while you read to set you in the mood. Warning: you'll have a hard time trying not to dance!
verin entroido cigarron ourense galicia carnaval carnival spain costume
HISTORY OF CARNIVAL

It is believed that the word Carnival derives from the words carne (meat) and vale (latin for "bye"). In other words, it's the time when Lent starts and we say bye bye to meat. The celebrations of Carnival spread across Europe during the Middle Ages and were related to religion although they probably have a pagan origin.

It is believed that Carnival originated in Europe in the pagan festivities celebrated in honor of the roman god of wine, Bacchus. Many historians say that they started around 5000 years ago in Egypt where the celebrations were pretty similar to those of the Romans. It was spread throughout South America by Spanish and Portuguese sailors in the 15th century.

WHEN IS CARNIVAL CELEBRATED?

Carnival day is always celebrated on a Tuesday because it has to be the day before Ash Wednesday. However, celebrations usually last for the whole week. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, when Christians celebrate the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert. So the date of Carnival depends on when Easter Sunday is set every year. This is related to the moon calendar since Good Friday is always full moon.

In 2019, martes de Carnaval is on March 5th and Ash Wednesday March 6th.

In most Spanish towns and cities, Carnival begins with an opening speech by an important local person or a celebrity, El Pregon. Then, the celebrations begin. It all ends with El Entierro de la Sardina -literally the burial of the sardine-, this parody represents the burial of vice and corruption to enter a period of reflection. It consists of of a funeral in which a large figure of a sardine is burned.

BEST CARNIVALS IN SPAIN
These are the must-see carnivals in Spain:

TENERIFE (CANARY ISLANDS)
The most colorful Carnival of Spain is celebrated in the island of Tenerife. The whole island celebrates Carnival with great enthusiasm. Colorful parades, contests and parties fill the island. The Carnival in Tenerife is the second biggest in the world only after the one in Rio de Janeiro.

There's an important competition to choose the Carnival Queen (reina del carnaval). It's similar to a beauty pageant but with spectacular dresses made of beads and satin and feathers and built with frames and wheels because they can weigh up to 450 pounds.

VERIN (GALICIA)
In Galicia Carnival is called entroido and its highlight is a popular figure: el cigarron. Cigarrons are the modern version of shamans with animal masks. It all comes from the time of the colonization of South America. Lords came back from Peru and used similar costumes from those they had seen there to scare the population and force them to pay taxes. The intricate costumes feature cowbells and whips that they move while running in the streets making a deafening noise.
verin entroido cigarron ourense galicia carnaval carnival spain costume
verin entroido cigarron ourense galicia carnaval carnival spain costume
MIGUELTURRA (CASTILLA LA MANCHA)
The origins of Carnival in the town of Miguelturra are lost in time, the tradition has been transmitted by word of mouth through generations. This fiesta maintains its original essence in this part of La Mancha. The Carnival of Miguelturra was declared of Regional Tourist Interest in 1983 and of National Tourist Interest in 2018. This town houses the Museum of Carnival where you can see incredible costumes not only from this town but from other countries.

The Carnival you can see in Miguelturra is very traditional. However, it is far from the sophistication of Venice's Carnival and has a naughty side. On the streets you can find a bed with wheels with the girl from The Exorcist on it, people eating churros from a chamber pot filled with chocolate... You get the idea.

The most important character in Miguelturra's Carnival is the street mask, mascara callejera. The costume consists of a rag or a mask that covers your face and old colorful clothes that you can find in your house. The street mask comes and talks to you repeating something like "I'm sure you don't know me" in a funny voice.
miguelturra mascara callejera churriego museo carnaval carnival spain costume
miguelturra mascara callejera churriego museo carnaval carnival spain costume
carnival miguelturra churriego ciudad real la mancha carnaval spain
CADIZ (ANDALUSIA)
Music plays an important part in the Carnival here. In Cadiz the famous "Chirigotas" make the funniest sung parodies. They are music bands that make up songs whose hilarious lyrics are based on popular culture and current events. People in Cadiz are known all over Spain to have the best sense of humour and the music they create for Carnival certainly reflects this.

If you can't make it to those places don't worry because you can find parades and parties in every single city.

CARNIVAL FOOD
Carnival may be related to the consumption of meat but what we actually eat during the celebrations are sweets. In many regions of Spain orejas (Spanish for ears) and flores (flowers) are popular. The recipe is similar, the difference is the shape.

Orejas are a delicious, crunchy dessert typical of the north of Spain. Its main ingredients are eggs, flour, oil and lots of white sugar. The anise-flavored dough is rolled out very thin, then fried and dusted with powdered sugar. They were given this peculiar name because they look like human ears even though the size is much bigger. In other parts of Spain they are known as hojuelas.
orejas carnaval spain carnival dessert sweet dulce
Flores are made with an iron flower-shaped mold and are very popular in Galicia or Castilla-La Mancha.
miguelturra churriego museo carnaval carnival spain costume fruta sarten flores molde
CARNIVAL MUSIC
Apart from the aforementioned chirigotas, Caribbean music that makes you want to start dancing is played all around. Song's like Celia Cruz's La Vida es un Carnaval or Georgie Dann's Carnaval, Carnaval appear in every single celebration.

USEFUL VOCABULARY
comparsa or charanga - a group of singers, musicians and dancers that take part in carnivals
chirigota - is a genre of Spanish choral folk song originating in the region of Cadiz. The songs are satirical and performed in the streets by performers wearing costumes during carnival.
murga - a form of popular musical theater

I hope you enjoyed this guide to Carnival in Spain.
Do you celebrate carnival where you are?

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spain celebration festivity fiesta carnival carnaval entroido galicia verin cigarron

13 comments

  1. I always hear about Carnival in Brazil, I had no clue Spain celebrated as well. Thanks for the informative post and the fab pics!

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  2. Jennifer Dockey SeisloveMarch 4, 2019 at 10:24 PM

    This looks like a blast and a one-of-kind experience!

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  3. I dream of attending these types for a long time. So cool!

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  4. Carnival looks like such a wonderful and fun experience! I love the history behind it!

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  5. I loved learning about the history of the carnival and most of all the carnival food - wonderful xx Maria

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  6. This is such a useful and interesting post. I like the sound of those sugary ears, I could just do with one now! We went to a carnival in Catalonia several years ago when our children were quite small but they still remember it very fondly today, it was such a holiday highlight. #farawayfiles

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  7. Kelleyn RothaermelMarch 8, 2019 at 12:37 AM

    Looks Like A lot of fun!

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  8. What an interesting and useful post. I think celebrating carnival in Spain sounds like a must after reading this. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

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  9. They are different ways to celebrate Carnival but both are famous :)

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  10. The costumes are so elaborate, I think I'd take way too many photos of them if I ever made it Carnival. Spain in on our summer destination list... really looking forward to getting back there! #farawayfiles

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  11. I have too many photos of them 😂 they were so picturesque!

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  12. Very cool! I have never been to a carnival celebration but have always wanted to go!

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