The Spanish love a party so it’s not surprising that the lead up to Lent is a festive time in Barcelona. Carnaval (Carnival) literally means ‘farewell to meat’, and it’s a time of feasting in preparation for the 40-day fast period of Lent. This year Carnaval in Spain kicks off on February 16th with Dirty Thursday (Jueves Ladero or Dijous Gras) – let the eating begin!
This is the time to hit the markets where food stalls will be competing for prizes and celebrating taste sensations; many neighborhoods hold local festivals of their own. One year I stumbled across a street in the district of Gracia where the residents had set out a long table the whole length of the street and sat down to feast together.
Since the 1980s Carnaval in Barcelona had featured a huge parade but this year the city officials decided not to hold it so most people will be heading just out of Barcelona to the town of Sitges to celebrate in style (30 minutes by train). The Sitges Carnaval Parades are legendary – possibly because it is known as the gay capital of Europe – attracting around 300,000 revelers. There are extravagant costumes and parades to capture anyone’s attention: on Sunday the 19th of February, Rua de la Disbauxa will be held, one of Carnaval’s main parades, and on Tuesday the 21st, Rua del Extermini will host the biggest parade of Carnaval. Back in Barcelona there will be a few local parades but nothing on the grand scale of those in Sitges.
The final day of Carnaval (22 February 2012) is called Burying the Sardine (Enterrament de la Sardine). Traditionally the festival has a King, (Rey Carvnaval in Spanish, Rei Carnestoltes in Catalan) who makes his first appearance on the Thursday, absorbs everyone’s sins throughout the weekend, then symbolically dies on Ash Wednesday to mark the end of the festival and the beginning of Lent. His will is read and his body is buried in the ground (or the sandy beach at Sitges): this is Burying the Sardine. People swap their bright carnival costumes and disguises for black mourning clothes and Carnaval comes to an end for another year.