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Carnival desires - Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Cigar in hand, Fidel Castro dances alongside Michael Jackson and a group of transvestites strut down the street not far from a gaggle of children who look as though they’re on their way to an audition for The Wizard of Oz
The Santa Cruz Carnival in Tenerife is one of the biggest and most spectacular events of its kind in a country famous for its fantastically colourful fiestas.
Every February, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the largest of the Canary Islands, hosts this historical carnival, attracting around a million people either participating or observing.
Although loosely connected to Lent, unlike other Spanish fiestas this amazing celebration has little religious meaning and is simply an excuse for an enormous party.
It boasts the most outlandish costumes, spectacular dancing and sensational music from locals who stop everything to abandon themselves to ‘carnival desire’.
Preparations begin months in advance, with the festival itself taking place in the week up to and including Ash Wednesday, but in total lasting around three weeks.
The events throughout the month include the election of the Carnival Queen, a cabalgata (horse parade) and the ultimate impressive parade that blends such themes as ‘Caribbean’ and ‘European’ into a garland of colour and spectacle.
After more than two weeks of competitions in which almost a hundred bands take part, the curtain goes up on the main show with the street as the backdrop.
The Tenerife Carnival is a celebration of great glamour and style. The wild revelry and hedonistic street partying is said to rival the carnival of Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans’ Mardi Gras - and its history is just as exciting.
It has been the main festival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife since the 17th century and families have faithfully passed the tradition down through the generations.
In the early 19th century, newspapers began reporting about the city’s high society balls as well as popular celebrations for the less well-off masses in the local theatre. It was around this time, according to historians, that the camelladas were first celebrated, the forerunners of the present-day cosos and cabalgatas - the carnival parades.
A group of riders would parade around the old quarter on camels carrying Chinese lanterns and raining blizzards of confetti over onlookers.
A century later, revellers started the tradition of choosing the carnival queen, a young attractive woman who presides over the carnival’s many events.
For a number of years following the Civil War, General Franco banned carnivals all over Spain. But that didn’t stop the partying people of Tenerife, who rebelled by masquerading the celebration as a ‘Winter Festival’.
Wearing their disguises, the mascaras (masked people) paraded and danced in the streets often hotly pursued by the police. But the locals’ love of the carnival meant that they offered refuge to the persecuted revellers in their homes.
However, one year the number of people arrested was so high that the substantial province prison was full and the fun-loving mascaras were rounded up and flung into the biggest building the police could find – the bullring.
These days nearly all the inhabitants of Tenerife participate in the festivals in their towns, with the biggest being held in Santa Cruz.
Tenerife’s carnival showcases the magic and charm of music and dance from around the world, and there are many traditions and numerous additions that have evolved over the years, making the carnival a unique international celebration.
These traditions include the famous comparsas, murgas and rondallas.
In the 1960s, a group of Santacruzers started a small carnival imitating the famous Ecolas do Samba (Latin dancing groups) of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival in Brazil.
Now, 11 different comparsas take part in the Santa Cruz Carnival and compete to present the best and most flamboyant disgu
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