Carnival – one of the most popular Fiestas in Andalucia

Nerja CarnivalCarnival is celebrated in many towns and villages in Malaga. One of the most popular festivals, it is great fun to watch with lots of costumes, parades and celebrations.

The festival is usually held in February but is based around the date for Shrove Tuesday, so dates change every year. It normally takes place over the weekend – Friday to Sunday.

Carnival’s origins

Saturn and the origins of CarnivalThe origins of the Carnival can be seen not only in religious traditions but also in the ancient pagan Roman celebration of ‘Saturnalia’. 

Roman Saturnalia was a Roman festival dedicated to the Roman God Saturn, celebrated  in mid December. All work and business was suspended, slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked and a mock king was chosen, called the Lord of Misrule. There was also a believed to have been a parade of floats called ‘Carrus Navalis’. 

The word Carnival may also has its origin in the Latin ‘carne vale’, meaning  ‘farewell meat’.  Carnival was the final celebration before the commencement of the 40 days of Lent when Roman Catholics traditionally fasted or abstained from eating meat. Over time the religious and pagan traditions combined to produce the celebration we know today as Carnival.

Traditionally Carnival was a raucous celebration where almost anything was allowed – hence the reason to dress up or disguise oneself with costumes and masks to protect anonymity. 

This anonymity also led to the development of masks and costumes which could be used to mock public figures. 

Given Carnival’s tradition of mocking politicians and those in power it is perhaps not surprising that during the Spanish Civil War and in the years after it, General Franco abolished the Carnival. It was not until  the 1950’s and 1960’s that the festival began to reemerge but in a much more muted form. 

Funeral of the Sardine

Nerja Carnival Funeral ChanquetteNerja Funeral Chanquete CarnivalSome Carnival celebrations end with a tradition of a Mock funeral of the Sardine or “El Entierro de la Sardina”

This is an unusual parade with a model of a fish followed by the town’s people dressed in black and pretending to to be crying or wailing over the death of a  fish!

Apparently the funeral symbolises the restriction of meat during Lent when only the consumption of fish was allowed.  The parade is traditionally held on Ash Wednesday – the first day of lent.  

The origin of this funeral may have it roots in 18th century Madrid.  King Charles II  wanted to celebrate the end of the Carnival with the people of Madrid by providing sardines to everyone in the city. Unfortunately it was very hot and the sardines went bad. To get rid of the smell  they buried the fish in a park in the city.

Carnival in the Axarqiua

Nerja CarnivalNerja CarnivalNerja CarnivalNerja Carnival Star Wars Costume
One of the biggest celebrations in the Axarquia is the Nerja’s Carnival.  The costumes takes months to prepare as this article below explains…

‘During February, at least 50 people from the social group La Peña Nerjeña, brighten up the streets with their stunning costumes. Encarnita Garcia, one of the  members who prepared the costumes explained they work from November of the previous year. She explained ‘‘the costumes require a lot of work and time to get ready. The hats are the most challenging, but the job is made easier by mounting the decorations around a helmet.”

The cost of preparing these magnificent costumes is very high as everything is hand made “from cutting the cloth and sewing them, to creating the hats and bracelets. The average cost is somewhere in the region of 180,000 euros in total.”

According to Encarnita, making the Carnival’s costume is taken very seriously. The fabrics are brought from Morocco and the Canaries, Spain and even Bangkok.’

Article originally published in Insight Magazine, March 2010

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