February and March in the UK are such dull months. But in Andalucía they are full of fun, especially for children and anyone who likes dressing up in a fancy dress and having a celebration for no particular reason.
Apparently Carnaval has its origins in a colourful pagan festival which was celebrated before the arrival of Christianity. Like so many such festivals, it has remained in the calendar and it falls just before Lent (40 days before the beginning of Holy Week). Since it was apparently celebrated with fun, joy and sin, perhaps the modern celebration is a toned down version.
Nevertheless, the overriding theme of this festival is to have fun, and not for any specific reason other than
because it is time for a carnaval.
In Málaga, celebrations take place mostly in the historic centre of the city. They consist of choirs, musical performances, street bands and of course the parade of people of all ages - especially children - dressed up as all sorts of weird and wonderful characters.
Then follows a parade to the Malagueta beach, where a model of a “boquerón” - a little fish which is widely served at our chiringuitos - is ceremonially burned on the shore. As well as being delicious either deep fried or served cold in a garlic and olive oil dressing, a boquerón is the affectionate label given to every child born in Málaga.
The typical programme, which you can find at www.carnavalmalaga.com includes musical and drama groups, drag queens, humorous acts of every type, the election of a prince and princess of the carnival, and “god and goddess” who are chosen from the children. Just a glance at the programme makes you realise just how much planning goes into including everyone and anyone in this event, and how much fun there is to be had.
The Cádiz Carnaval accuses Málaga of copying its idea. The final point of their party is a parade through the streets of the city carrying a giant model of a sardine, which also burned. Whoever thought of it first (Cadiz actually), it makes for an entertaining sight.
The Cádiz Carnaval is particularly well known for its “chirigotas” which are groups of people, dressed up in colourful costumes who parade in the streets performing, telling jokes and fooling about. The epicentre of the occasion is the Great Falla Theatre in Cádiz; here there is a competition between the chirigotas who perform puppet shows and engage in “Guasa Gaditana” - Cádiz style banter.
Typical groups might dress up with or without masks, as jesters, clowns, tribes, doctors and nurses… the more comical and ridiculous the better.
There are also “Comparsas” who are more serious or classical singers, and of course the “Romanceros” who are solo acts which roam the streets performing to whoever wants to watch.
The whole event lasts for 10 days and attracts thousands of tourists to the city each year.
It is suspected that Cádiz actually took the idea of having such a party from Venice, a city with which it used to trade. Equally, towns and villages, having seen the enjoyment to be had in Cadiz and other cities, hold celebrations of their own. Check your ayuntamiento website for what’s on in your town or village. The only requirement to participate either as a performer or spectator is that you have a sense of fun and humour and want to enjoy yourself.
For school aged children, carnaval is taken very seriously. Just after new year parents start thinking about the costume their child is going to wear. Competitions take place at school, shopping centres and in the main square of many towns, so getting the outfit right and trying to be original and inventive is very important because there are prizes to be won. While nowadays the supermarkets or Chinese bazaars have aisles of costumes to purchase complete, points may well be earned for going back to the old fashioned way, and doing a little creative DIY and making your own or at least customising a ready made costume.
While the Summer is the time for (most of) the ferias in Andalucía, Carnaval brightens up what could be a rather dull and dreary month.