Updated: May 12, 2022
Hello! And welcome to my blog! Are you ready to party? If you are not you'd better get your skates on as the Carnival is only round the corner!
We are now in February, Christmas is over, and these winter months seem to go on for ever. It's cold, wet, dark and there doesn't seem to be anything exciting to look forward to until spring, apart from the odd snowfall.
I know not everyone likes the snow but I love it. When it snows there is this calm, still feeling in the air that makes me stop, look around and take notice of the floating white flakes transforming the grey and dull landscape into a bright and magical one. I get a wonderful warm feeling inside, and then the madness starts, shouts of "It's snowing, it's snowing. Come and see the snow" and putting on scarves, hats, gloves, boots, coats, grabbing plastic bags and off to play, run, sledge, roll, slide...Exactly the same as I used to do when I was a kid.
One year it was dark outside and it started snowing, the first snowfall of the year, so I grabbed my younger brother wrapped him warm with a scarf longer than Doctor Who's and dragged him outside to play. I like to think he enjoyed it too.
My love of snow comes from my childhood living in Soria, a small city in the North of Spain. It sits in the mountains at over 1000 m above sea level, therefore it is very cold in the winter and I remember it always used to snow, the river used to freeze and we would happily reach -12 C. One year it even snowed in June! Out of curiosity I've just checked the weather forecast and it looks like it might snow on Monday.
I remember occasions where I had similar feelings of lethargy and dullness during the winters in Soria, cold, dark, not much to do, same old, same old... until 1984. That year something wonderful happened, something that would reignite the streets of Soria with fun, mischief, laughter, music, masks and fancy dress. The Carnival was reinstated after a ban of nearly 50 years. The prohibition to celebrate the Carnival started during the Spanish Civil war in 1937 for the whole of Spain and in Soria (in other cities the ban was lifted earlier) it continued during Franco's dictatorship (1939-1975) and after his death until 1984.
And I was there!!!! Part of a historical moment!!!! It gets even more exciting, as it was my father who was chosen to make the opening speech of the very first Carnival after the prohibition.
I asked my dad yesterday to tell me about how it all happened. Well, he told me that he had been elected one of the local counsellors at that time. The people of Soria wanted the Carnival to start again, he was in favour too, and quite vocal about it. For this reason and also because of his passion for writing, he was chosen to write and read out the opening speech of the first Carnival (El Pregón). There were some people opposed to having the Carnival, a natural thing in politics, however it did finally go ahead.
So there he stood, in front of the eager people of Soria, on a very cold night, opening once more an ancient tradition, a celebration of the people, that had been interrupted by a bloody, destructive civil war. My dad tells me some disgruntled people threw snowballs at him, but nothing more came of it. You can't please everyone! Nevertheless, the Carnival has been celebrated ever since.
I must thank my mum (thank you!) for digging out these newspaper cuttings (and photos) that she produced when I was doing the research for this blog. They are from 1984 from the local newspapers in Soria. Amazing she's kept them all these years! A little piece of history!
I had to do some research into the history of the Carnival and I have found that it is an ancient pagan celebration which is thought to have begun more than 5000 years ago in Egypt and Rome. In Rome, during the festivities they honoured Bacchus, the god of wine, (other sources say they honoured the Sun god) and in Egypt they worshipped an Apis bull. It was a festivity that entitled people from different social classes to mix by hiding their identity and social status behind a mask, there were banquets, orgies, animal sacrifices and excess. Rules were relaxed, I've even heard that everything was permitted!
The Carnival in Spain is linked to religion since medieval times when the Catholic Church established fasting during Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of penance, reflection and abstinence, so the Carnival is the excess before the restraint. During the Carnival folk are allowed to lose control, indulge in food and drink, dance, make fun of politicians and society, all in all, it's a time to let go.
Etymologically speaking the word Carnival originates from Latin "carnem levare" which could be translated as "bid farewell to meat".
Nowadays the Carnival is celebrated in Spain, different regions having different traditions, some of them ancient. However in all of them you will find music, fancy dress, typical foods and plenty of entertainment.
As you might have noticed Easter starts on different dates each year. This is because Easter Sunday is celebrated on the first Sunday with a full moon after the spring equinox (which is around the 21st of March). Because of its link to Lent and Easter the Carnival dates also vary from one year to another, so it will require some detective work to know when it starts each year (or some amazing googling!). Just like Pancake Tuesday!
Jueves Lardero / Fat Thursday
Carnival starts with an ancient tradition called "Jueves Lardero" (Fat Thursday). There is a saying "Jueves Lardero, pan, chorizo y huevo", which means "Fat Thursday, bread, Spanish sausage and egg". Because that is what people do, eat all the things that they won't be allowed to eat during lent. It is the most fantastic day and I have very fond memories of it (yes, I do like my food!).
When I still lived in Soria I remember that on "Jueves Lardero" all the kids prepared all sorts of treats to take out to the countryside and share with their friends. I used to get all those things I normally wasn't allowed to eat, like crisps, nuttella (nocilla is the Spanish version), coke or fanta to drink. And then of course "chorizo" sandwiches (my mouth waters just thinking about chorizo, you can buy it homemade in Soria's local villages and it's amazing!), ham croquettes (still one of my most favourite foods) and as we got a bit older we also, I have to confess, took alcohol. So I remember packing my rucksack and then heading off to the countryside with my group of friends. The countryside wasn't far from the city, as Soria is small, so we walked there.
After having eaten, on the evening of Fat Thursday the people of Soria gather in the old part of the town to listen to the opening speech of the Carnival, as they did all those years ago in 1984.
This year (2019) "Jueves Lardero" starts on the 28th of February. You are still in time to join in the celebrations if you fancy. Just pack a nice picnic with your favourite food and head off to a nice country spot. If you are not reading this blog in 2019 here is a link to the following year's dates.
I have found a website with photos of "Jueves Lardero" in Soria in 2015, and it seems much more multitudinous than I remember! Here is the link if you want to have a look.
And here are some photos of the first few Carnivals in Soria.
Martes de Carnaval / Pancake Tuesday
The last day of Carnival is "Martes de Carnaval", which is Pancake Tuesday here. I always forget to make pancakes, so this year I am determined not to and it is firmly marked on my wall calendar and on my phone, with two alerts! Pancake Tuesday is also the day before lent starts, which is Ash Wednesday (Miércoles de Ceniza).
The Carnival ends with a tradition called "el entierro de la sardina" (the burial of the sardine). You did read correctly! It's the farewell to the Carnival, people dress in black and walk in a funeral procession where a figure of a sardine is paraded and finally burnt. It's a symbolic goodbye to the excess of the Carnival...until the next year. When it first started we walked with candles but it seems to have become more elaborate over the years. I haven't been for a long time but watching the videos on YouTube that's my impression. Don't take my word for it, watch the video, it looks amazing. I must go back sometime. Here is a video of 2018
If you have never been to a Carnival I fully recommend you do. It is lots of fun. The first year it was celebrated in Soria I remember the buzz amongst my friends and family. The frenzy of making masks, thinking what to dress up as. My mum decided to go as a roller skater, and couldn't skate at all, it was also icy, so as you can imagine she didn't spend much time on her feet. I know there are still stories going around about this. I dressed up as a medieval vagrant and spent hours attaching long pieces of wool to a hat to make a wig.
Groups of friends will get together and have a theme, there was a pirate ship on wheels full of pirates once, who made people walk the plank. It is really amazing what some people think of and make. Here is a link to a video of a very funny roller coaster costume, I'm not sure what town it's from but it's hilarious.
Between "jueves lardero" and "martes de carnaval" there are a succession of fun activities for both children and adults; parades, music, events, amazing costumes, contests, theatre, juggling, fireworks... Each region in Spain has its own programme. There are some really famous Carnivals that are nationally and internationally renowned, for example the Carnival in Cádiz, Tenerife and Águilas (Murcia). I will be writing a Part II about the Carnival in Spain and there I will talk about other regions and their Carnivals.
I shall also be writing a blog for activities to do with children, at school or at home. Keep an eye out for it!
I must finish with a song...and what better than..."Carnaval, carnaval, carnaval te quiero, la la la la la la la bailaremos sin parar, en el mundo entero..." by Georgie Dann. Link to song on YouTube
Please let me know in the comments about your own Carnival traditions. I'd be very interested to hear about them. Thanks!