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Carnival craziness: Week-long pre-Lent fancy-dress parties in Spain
Carnival craziness: Week-long pre-Lent fancy-dress parties in Spain
By thinkSPAIN Team Sat, Feb 22, 2020
FEW nations eagerly await the start of Lent the way Spain does – except, perhaps, Brazil – and, arguably, these two countries are the ones that have the best time of it the night before it starts. Carnival craziness has hit the nation, and although a handful of these still hold the trump card for being the biggest and most splendid, drawing in tourists from hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away, a huge number of towns now hold their own versions.
Local Carnival celebrations range from fancy-dress children's parades as part of the main school day through to entire streets bursting with discos, pop-up bars and costumed revellers until sunrise.
Arguably the largest in Spain is in the Canary Islands, where the fun started on Thursday and will carry on into the middle of next week, with at least one public holiday where everyone can get involved and nobody goes to work.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
In fact, you're not too late to catch the main parts of the Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife – which attracts almost as many visitors as the coastal cities of Salvador de Bahia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil over the same few days. Live music and discos are still playing in the Plaza del Príncipe and the Plaza de la Candelaria tonight and tomorrow night, and it's tomorrow (Sunday, February 23) when the largest and most colourful parade of all hits the streets.
It starts at 17.30, but live bands are on all day – the Ni Fú Ni Fá 'Aphilarmonic' hits the stage at 11.00 and the Los Fregolinos Lyrical Musical Union from noon.
Every year, Santa Cruz de Tenerife nominates a Carnival Queen, and the honour of this once-in-a-lifetime rôle is about the size of being chosen as Miss España or to represent Spain in the Eurovision – the only 'job' that comes close to it is that of Fallera Mayor in the city of Valencia during its flamboyant March fiestas (more on those nearer the date – stay tuned to find out more).
This year's Carnival Queen is Sara Cruz Teja who, at just 18, is much younger than usual, but was gunning hard for the position because she wanted her grandmother to see her in it 'before it was too late'.
Psychology undergraduate Sara's grandmother has Alzheimer's, and she wanted her to witness her granddaughter – who hopes to go on to specialise in criminology – performing her part in the greatest festival honour nationwide whilst she still remembers who she is and still understands what the Carnival is all about.
Sara will not just be 'Queen for a Day' – once you're elected for the 'royal' Carnival rôle, you have a job for the rest of the year (unpaid, except in prestige, excitement and fun) until the next one is elected, normally the following February, depending upon when Easter falls.
An almost-equally huge Carnival celebration takes place in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the other provincial capital of the Canary Islands, but smaller towns also hold their own, meaning if you live or are staying almost anywhere in the region, you'll find one near you.
Spain's second-most famous, and the largest and most spectacular on the mainland, is in Cádiz on Spain's southern coast, to the west of Gibraltar.
Naturally, other towns in the same province – and in the wider region of Andalucía – host local versions, but the one in the port city should be witnessed at least once in the lives of anyone resident in or with a holiday home in the wider area.
The grand parade is tomorrow (Sunday) evening from 18.00, starting at the Ingeniero de la Cierva roundabout and winding up in the Puertas de Tierra area – the children's events are earlier in the day – and rounding off with live music by DJ Lollypop from 22.30 until late (or early) in the Plaza de San Antonio.
Events carry on daily until March 1 inclusive, largely low-key on weekdays (competitions, craft workshops, open-air dance shows, live music events), kicking off at the weekend again with Saturday bringing a farcical costume parade at 19.00, an al fresco concert with Diego Carrasco from 22.30 in the Plaza de San Antonio, a tango and pasodoble contest-cum-show, and an all-night disco with DJ Luigii López from just after midnight.
Wandering minstrels on floats do the rounds amid huge crowds (see picture three) at lunchtime on the final Sunday, which finishes with a huge firework display at 21.30.
Famous pop and rock acts perform live at Cádiz Carnival – this year brings Luz Casal (22.30 on Thursday, February 27 in the Plaza de San Antonio) onto the stage.
The second and third photographs are from the Cádiz province leisure and tourism guide, Guía de Cádiz.
Madrid, Catalunya, Extremadura, Castilla y León, Galicia, the Balearic Islands, and plenty of other regions celebrate the Carnival – in some, a public holiday will be declared at some point during the week, so make sure that if there's one in your area, you're aware well in advance of when it is; shops will be shut, so you need to stock up at the supermarket, and if you have kids you'll need to organise childcare if you work in another town where it is not a holiday.
The Costa Blanca is probably where you'll find the second-most famous Carnivals on the mainland – although popular coastal towns like Benidorm, Calpe, Jávea and Dénia have started to throw their own on in recent years, they mostly remain low-key compared with the massive outdoor fancy-dress nightclub that Pego becomes.
It's one of the northernmost villages in the province of Alicante and, for 364 days of the year (365 in 2020), its population sits at around 11,000, of whom nearly a third live on urbanisations several kilometres outside the main hub; its weekly market square is basically a supermarket car park, its main high street is cobbled and wide enough for one car at a time, and its town hall square just about has room for a church, a fountain and three small pavement cafés. But a fleet of coaches pour out hundreds of visitors from Valencia city and even as far away as Madrid on the last Saturday before Lent every year, swelling Pego's headcount threefold for barely 12 hours. Although there is, in fact, a costumed parade early in the evening, the main event is a free-for-all night-long party, with DJs and live bands on three main stages (that's all the town centre has room for) and collapsible outdoor bars on every street corner. Whilst many get creative with their costumes and spend weeks or months putting them together, many more simply grab what they can find in their nearest Chinese bazaar – tinsel, colourful wigs, masks and glitter – slap it all on, get drunk and dance.
You'll always find a small number dressed in civvies who've just gone along for the atmosphere, but you're more likely to find groups of three or four or six wearing the same peculiar, flamboyant get-up, and quite a handful of hilariously-imaginative combinations: devil horns with purple wigs, blokes in fishnets and Frozen dresses, Simpsons characters, mermaids, animals in the kind of bright colours you never see in the wild, and anything topical, trendy or recently in the media.
Big crowds, big crushes, rivers of alcohol and the best pop, rock and dance music, and anyone who can find a parking space, bribe a teetotaller for a lift or find a seat in a taxi just turning up, free of charge and having fun, Pego Carnival – known locally as the Carnestoltes, as it is in Catalunya and the rest of the Comunidad Valenciana – is not just for teenagers and early-20-somethings. Practically every age, 30s, 40s, 50s, pensioners and even the elderly join in (partly because the biggest stage is right outside the local nursing home). Nobody is too old to immerse themselves in the fun winter-spring cusp midnight madness, unless they personally feel they are.
Surprisingly to anyone not familiar with Spain – but not at all unusual to anyone who is – Pego's come-as-you-please, silly-costumed, cocktail-fuelled street-disco fest almost never gives rise to trouble like fights or vandalism or lewd behaviour that heavy drinking in public might in the UK. Everyone's having too much fun to smash things or punch people, and the atmosphere, although wild, is very safe indeed.
If you've left it too late to catch any Carnival activity this year, work back to the nearest Saturday six weeks before Easter 2021 and make sure you're there in plenty of time; at least you have a full 12 months to work out costume ideas!
Fourth picture: Pego tourist office (Pego i les Valls)
Fifth picture: YouTube
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