Carnaval in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Cadiz

It’s not just a cliché: Spain is a country of fiestas, shared emotions, life in the street. Whether its Las Fallas in Valencia, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona or Holy Week in Seville, the list of world renown celebrations goes on and on, and would not be complete without Carnaval. There are few places in Spain that do not celebrate Carnaval, but there are two celebrations that stand out which have gained much-deserved international fame: those of Cadiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Carnaval in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is, without a doubt, the most “Brazilian” of all of Spain’s Carnaval celebrations. For a week the streets of Tenerife’s capital are flooded with revelers from all over the world, with music, color, jubilation and creativity, creating a concentrated festive atmosphere difficult to describe. Carnaval on this island, which has become one of the world’s largest celebrations, is an explosion of joy and freedom that perfectly brings together the essence of this universal fiesta: for a few days there are no limits, and the only rule is complete abandon, taboos and norms disappear. The purest, most complete expression of freedom is what defines Carnaval in Santa Cruz.

However, this chaotic revelry is in no way improvised or disorganized. Months beforehand, the people of Tenerife excitedly prepare the floats that will travel the city streets, investing these preparations with boundless imagination and good energy that is catching. Songs and musical pieces are rehearsed, and parodies about current politics or famous people are created. All Carnaval groups participate in the opening parade on the first day (the Saturday before Carnaval): Brazilian style groups, bands of adult and child street musicians, choirs, and of course thousands and thousands of people in costume. The Carnaval Queen is selected from among the parade’s most beautiful girls, who are then royally outfitted in gorgeous dresses specifically designed for the occasion. On Carnaval Tuesday participants experience the festival’s apotheosis in an enclosure in which all participants gather; it is the culmination of what has truly been a metamorphosis, the closing of this long parenthesis in the day-to-day life of Tenerife which its Carnaval celebration represents.

Although the essence of the Cadiz Carnaval celebration is the same, and joy the common denominator, it has a few original characteristics that give it its own personality. Here too the fiesta has a long prologue - a period of more than a month that gets underway with the "Erizada", a traditional tasting of sea urchins, and continues with competitions of choirs, "comparsas" and "chirigotas" (humorous carnival groups) held in the Falla Theatre, some of the most characteristic events in the Cadiz carnival. The “chirigotas”, street musicians, choirs and quartets are Carnaval groups that compete to create the most visually and musically original, and fun, stage performance.

After the famous competition, everything bursts out onto the streets, as if the theatre were the final barrier holding in their joy. The different groups move through the streets of the city’s historic quarter, singing popular ballads, tangos, cuplés (a light, sometimes risqué song), popurris or pasodobles that they have composed, which always have a sharp note of politic or social satire, eroticism, inseparable from Andalusian humor. No one and nothing is spared. Not only organized groups participate in the festivities, but the entire city does, creating a tumultuous atmosphere of happiness and color, one of total and free expression. The fiesta culminates with the grand parade on Piñata Sunday, a jubilant night in which the collective delirium reaches its most festive, joyful and colorful manifestation.

Imagination, fantasy, vitality, humor and public spirit are the values that mark these two Spanish fiestas, admired and envied throughout the world.

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