Carnival celebrations in the Canary Islands are unlike any others anywhere in Spain. On Tenerife and in Las Palmas carnival time is the biggest and most spectacular celebration of the year. The rivalry between the two islands is legendary and this particular festivity is no exception: competition is fierce to see who can organise the best celebrations. But my intention here is merely to describe the nature of these celebrations in an attempt to help you choose, although I’d never be able to opt for just one!
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife enjoys an outstanding international reputation. Indeed, it is considered by many to rank amongst the finest carnivals in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro. Everything about this carnival is big, bold and bright, and each year it takes a tongue-in-cheek look at a particular theme or issue. For 2013 the theme chosen by the residents of Santa Cruz is “the world of Bollywood: India”, which undoubtedly opens up a whole world of possibilities when it comes to choosing the music and costumes for the competitions and various events included in the Carnival programme.
Tenerife’s Carnival is unquestionably the safest in the world and the one that gets more people involved than anywhere else. Masses of visitors flock to the island at this time of year, where they receive a warm welcome from the people whose love for the carnival celebrations flows through their veins; people capable of throwing body and soul into enjoying some good-hearted and lively fun and can keep up the frenetic and festive pace. They love the explosion of colour and joy in a fun-filled celebration where spring-like temperatures are an invitation to get out onto the streets and dance with the crowds till dawn to the sounds of big bands, and enjoy the performances put on by numerous groups at venues around the city. A city that is quite literally taken over by the people, and where for several days several hundreds of thousands throng the streets, dancing to the sounds of top name bands and internationally-renowned artists .The Carnival of Santa Cruz achieved maximum recognition when it was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest by the Spanish Secretary of State for Tourism.
Tenerife’s Carnival is all about partying in the streets; it’s about parades and street bands (known locally as murgas and rondallas); it’s about the contests to choose the Carnival Queen as well as her Junior and Senior counterparts.
And when the Carnival comes to an end, the residents of Tenerife say goodbye for another year, literally amid floods of tears. Thousands of widows dressed entirely in black; thousands of grief-stricken weeping widowers in mourning for the yearly ‘death’ of the carnival; priests, monks, bishops and even ‘Popes’ drag themselves along the ground, which is awash with floods of tears. This is the famous ‘Burial of the Sardine’ and a truly spectacular finale.
To take part in this fabulous fiesta that literally takes over the entire city, all you need is imagination and the desire to have fun, as the Carnival is the time when more than ever, no one is a stranger in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The history of the Carnival of Las Palmas dates back more than 400 years. Today it has a greater social and economic impact on the island of Gran Canaria than any other festival and is one of its biggest tourist attractions. A celebration that has adapted to changing demands in terms of leisure, fun and entertainment, yet which retains all its traditional flavour. Proceedings get underway following the famous Pregón or proclamation, which each year pays tribute to a specific personality. One of the most popular images of the Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is that of the fabulous costumes worn by the candidates during the gala ceremony to choose the Festival Queen. The quality of the materials used, the sheer size of the designs, the bright colours and originality of the patterns and details make this one of the most spectacular nights of the year – together with the Drag Queen Gala – another of the big events on the Carnival programme and one which embodies the essence of the Carnival spirit. Gender-swapping, daring and tongue-in-cheek fun all come together on stage as an assertion of the right to new forms of expression. This contest attracts so many entrants that each year a pre-selection event is held to choose the finalists that will compete for the title.
The Carnival of Las Palmas also includes competitions for the music bands known as Murgas, fancy dress contests for children and adults, group and float competitions, traditional carnival celebrations and the unusual Carnaval al Sol – Carnival in the Sunshine – parade. The month of February and an average temperature of 22º C encourage the Carnival groups, music bands and individuals alike to take part in the spectacular parade that runs from Las Canteras Beach to Santa Catalina Park.
The Grand Parade is one of the best opportunities for everyone to get involved. Each year more than 200,000 masked participants take part, accompanied by around a hundred decorated cars and floats that transport the Queen, the Drag Queen, the Grand Dame and the Junior Queen to the sounds of the batucadas – fast samba-style rhythms. The parade makes its way around the city in an explosion of Carnival fun, daring and freedom of spirit. There’s also a more competitive side to this event, as a panel of judges chooses a number of winners from the participating cars and floats.
The Burial of the Sardine marks the end of the Carnival celebrations. The sardine expires and each year, widows and mourners join the funeral procession as it makes its way down to Las Canteras Beach. There, in a last-ditch effort to keep the party going, the residents say their final farewells to the sorry clupeid in the symbolic incineration that follows the procession around the city.
So… it’s tempting, isn’t it? Like I said, you’ll be hard-pressed to choose just one. I’ll have to toss a coin into the air!
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