The Carnival in Catalonia: A blend of tradition and spectacle
Carnival, one of the most unique and crowded festivals, is also known in Catalonia as Carnestoltes. It is a very popular celebration – it was banned during Franco’s dictatorship –, so each village has its own traditions or rituals.
Most carnivals in Catalonia begin on Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday) and last until Ash Wednesday, a period in which party and excesses are allowed in the Christian tradition. Lent, the period that follows, is the total opposite. It is a time of abstinence. In Catalonia the party is presided over by King Carnestoltes, “the king of all crackpots…”
Vilanova i la Geltrú, the capital of the Garraf region, hosts the most popular carnival in Catalonia. It has been declared Festa Patrimonial d’Interés Nacional (Heritage Celebration of National interest) by the Catalan government. Domingo de Comparsas is their big day. Thousands of people parade through the streets of the city to the rhythm of the numerous bands and orchestras who liven up the celebration. Once the bands reach Plaça de la Vila, a candy battle begins… and craziness ensues.
In the coastal city of Sitges, also part of Garraf, there is the most ‘Brazilian’ carnival of Catalonia. The popular events happen on Carnival Sunday at the evening parade called Rua del Desenfreno (Rampage Parade) and on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when the Rua del Exterminio (Extermination Parade) takes place. More than 2000 people show up in flamboyant costumes and walk along forty-odd floats. It’s total mayhem and craziness but also, lots of fun.
Farther to the north along the coast, in the region of Baix Empordà the carnival elation is also welcomed with open arms and a mischievous smile. Especially in the town of Palamós, where on the Saturday afternoon after Fat Thursday, they host the G randiosa Rúa del Carnaval (Grandiose Carnival Parade). At night they have a costume party that goes on until the wee hours of the morning. Not far, in the town of Platja d’Aro, the celebrations gather people by the thousands as well. Its main event: The Gran Pasacalle de Carrozas y Comparsas.
Platja d’Aro Carnival.
In Solsona, city of Giants, they blend its characteristic tall statues (borne on the shoulders of a volunteer) into the carnival, but it’s the hanging of the donkey what makes of this celebration a curious event. Please, nobody panic. It isn’t a real donkey, just a stuffed animal or a cardboard cutout.
If you come to Catalonia late and still want to celebrate the carnival, you may want to head to the town of Olot, where they begin the celebration when the others are cleaning up theirs.
These are just a few original examples. As we said, each town has its own particular way of celebrating carnival that blend with traditions. Plenty of information is available on their websites.
Main photography, courtesy of the City of Sitges.