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Of all the crazy Spanish fiestas that take place throughout the year, there is nothing wilder than the Carnaval celebrations in late February! The week leading up to Lent is a time for wild partying in some parts of Spain when the country plays host to Europe’s biggest and best Carnaval festivals.

There are a few speculations on the origins of Carnaval in Spain. Most popularly it is believed the term Carnaval derives from the words ‘farewell to the flesh’ or ‘remove meat’ a reference to the excesses that led up to the sombre Lent. Some suspect Carnaval is derived from the Roman solstice festival, the Saturnalia, where participants indulged in much drinking and dancing. 

Saturnalia is believed to have had the first parade floats, called the ‘carrus navalis’. With these pagan roots it’s easy to see why the dictator General Franco banned them for forty years!

All Spanish towns and cities have their own traditions and their own unique flavour of celebration, but what they have in common is a devotion to having a good time!  Tenerife, Sitges and Cadiz, are the biggest destinations for Carnaval, it seems that no one sleeps as the drinking and dancing go from dusk until dawn, with extravagant costumes and people in masks everywhere!  

The Carnaval in the city of Santa Cruzthe, Tenerife is possibly the biggest party held in Europe. Perhaps the most like the infamous Carnival of Rio, with a strong emphasis on beauty pageants and contests of every sort. 

In Sitges, the drag talent of Europe comes out to shine along with 250,000 people! The famous themed parades show off decorated carriages and some of the boldest, brightest costumes you’ve ever seen. On the last day of the event, you’ll see some of the best drag shows Europe has to offer!

In Cadiz you’ll find musical groups everywhere, stationed in plazas or in open-air carts accompanied by guitars and lutes. The majority of these songs are satirical; the people in Cadiz are known for their sense of humour in Spain, and the music of Carnaval reflects this. Politicians, clergy and celebrities are all cheerfully mocked and the costumes, while still extravagant, have a focus on cleverness and wit.

Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga famously also hold huge extravagant Carnavals with lavash parades and processions and masked balls.

One week on and the festival is brought to a close, culminating in the traditional Entierro de la Sardina, or the Burial of the Sardine, a mock funeral procession to say goodbye to the revelry and the Carnaval King or Queen.  This marks the beginning of Lent when formally dressed “mourners” carry a huge model of a sardine in a procession through the streets, where it is buried in its coffin! This is often accompanied by a sardine-eating event! 

In Archidona, ‘Carnaval’ is also celebrated very enthusiastically! The festival is a rumbustious riot of colour, fantastic, humorous costumes, loud music, parading and dancing all carried out in good-natured high spirits throughout the streets, with everyone from babies in pushchairs to the very old participating. (the poodle costume this year is my favourite !) Saturday night sees the ancient Ochavada, (town square) filled with people dancing until the early hours – still in costume! And Sunday prizes are given for the best costumes.

We can confirm (from experience!), the people of Archidona like to party and we would love to welcome you here to experience the wonderful spectacle next year! We have decided that next year we we should participate, getting involved and masquerading in the parade instead of just watching. And we are already thinking about our outfits !!   Should they be inspired by something British?  (as English people living here in Spain) We need your ideas please!!! 

So why not book to come and stay – and even better bring a costume and join in the party! 

Carnaval dates change with Lent and Easter dates but usually happen towards the end of February, one week before Lent begins. 

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