Carnaval de Cádiz
This week we’re taking the opportunity to talk about one of the big upcoming celebrations here in Spain—Carnaval! This festival, which is similar to Brazil’s Carnaval and Mardi Gras, is celebrated in many cities across Spain but today we’ll be focusing on the experience in Cádiz.
This year, Carnaval will be celebrated from February 8th-18th. However, the exact dates change every year along with the ecclesiastical calendar (which is used to determine the date of Easter, therefore Lent, and therefore this celebration as well). Carnaval is always celebrated from the weekend before Ash Wednesday through the weekend after.
Although the date on which this celebration falls is aligned with Spain’s Catholic roots, there are very few religious traditions associated with Carnaval today. The highlights of Cádiz’s Carnaval nowadays are definitely the costumes and competitions.
Carnaval is the big dress-up opportunity for Spaniards (the prominence of this holiday explains why they tend to believe Halloween costumes can only be scary)! Traditionally, people paint their faces and dress up in groups or individually in order to make a political statement or social critique, often in a humorous way. These costumes are often related with some of the competitions (see more below)as well. The costumes found at the Carnaval de Cádizvary greatly—from really intricate and extravagant to provocative and everything in between. For the best costume-filled experience, be sure to visit the Carnaval on one of the Saturdays.
Sidenote: My personal theory is that group costumes, in which everyone dresses exactly the same, are so popular as it’s an easy way to identify where your group members are in the crowd. You may want to keep this perk in mind when deciding whether to go solo or the group-route with your costumes.
Like any good festival, the Carnaval de Cádiz is chalk full of contests! The main events revolve around musical groups of different sizes and varieties of instruments. And the performers are REALLY serious about the competitions! Groups of coros, comparsas, chirigotas, and cuartetos practice all year round and the competition to even GET INTO the official Concurso de Agrupaciones Carnavales is fierce! All of these different groups, which you can learn more details about here, prepare a variety of songs (more often than not with original lyrics). These songs tend to be full of satire and critique of the current state of affairs in Cádiz, Andalucía, Spain, and/or the world as a whole. For this reason, it can be really hard for a non-native person to follow the meaning of the lyrics. Nonetheless, I recommend you check some out as the competitions are really popular in Spain—especially in Andalucía, where I’ve had roommates tune in to watch all of the performances on TV leading up to the big contest on the first Friday night. Getting tickets to the event is also a major competition, but admission to the children’s version is much more reasonable and may provide a fun alternative!
Despite having a lot of cultural aspects going on, what most young people tend to consider Carnaval to be is Party Central. Since the Carnaval de Cádiz is a particularly popular event, people will travel from all over the country to attend. This means that it is nearly impossible to find lodging unless you’re willing to pay an outrageous amount of money or you have booked a year-in-advance. Not to fear, if you’re now dying to go, there are still options! Many “party buses” exist to tote you from your city to Cádiz for a Saturday of festivities. Here in Andalucía, the buses tend to leave around noon on Saturday and return around noon on Sunday. There are no lodging accommodations included, but alcohol usually is! If you’re looking for the ultimate in a Spanish-style all-night-party experience, this is where it’s at.