It seems that throughout the year there is always a festival or celebration of some kind to be enjoyed in Andalucía, the first of which being Carnival which is traditionally held in the lead up to Easter.
Celebrated the week leading up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, Carnival is the first major celebration to mark the calendar in southern Spain and was traditionally seen as an opportunity to let off steam before the prohibitions of the upcoming religious holidays.
Claimed to have been inspired by the grand carnival of Venice, the carnival in Cadiz is renowned for its outrageous costumes, colourful parades and occasional provocative humour dates back to the 16th century when the city was one of Spain’s major trading ports.
The month of February is dedicated to carnival celebrations in Seville with all of the glamour and splendour to be expected from the Andalusian capital.
The origins of carnival in Málaga are believed to have evolved from a 16th century custom of dressing a cathedral choir boy as a bishop who would then perform a parody of religious ceremonies for an audience disguised in Venitian style masks. Unsurprisingly the event caused uproar in certain circles and was therefore short-lived, in fact it wasn’t until the 18th century that Málaga’s working classes resurrected the popular festivity.
Providing an escape from repression, carnival was fundamental in breaking down social barriers, allowing the people to break from the social order, dressing up in masks and fancy dress and poking fun at the ruling classes through song.
Hardly surprisingly, during the Spanish Civil War, General Franco abolished Carnivals altogether, however in true Spanish style the celebrations continued clandestinely in Andalucía. Watered down celebrations were held in towns and cities with groups permitted to sing in the streets, albeit under strict control. Although the lyrics would still contain hidden messages, the ridiculing songs could no longer be as blatant.
Re-established in all its anarchic glory in 1978, carnival is a fiesta for the people, an opportunity to let go of all inhibitions. the parades are garish and flamboyant, anything goes with huge models ranging from phallic symbols to children’s cartoon characters.
Usually a huge event in the carnival calendar, choosing the carnival queen, is often overshadowed by the drag queen competition. Predictably outrageous in appearance, the drag queens arrive in dazzling parades of elaborately decorated floats, some adorned in outfits so elaborate you might wonder how they manage to manoeuvre them.
Revellers and onlookers arrive from throughout Spain and overseas to enjoy the music, colour, festivities and unusual customs. In Málaga it is the “Entierro del boquerón”, the burial of the anchovy. Celebrated at the end of carnival to represent the purification of vices and restoration of order, the event consists of a parody of a funeral procession through the streets of the city with official mourners dressed in widow’s weeds and weeping, culminating with the burning of a huge effigy of an anchovy on Malagueta beach.