Carnaval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent (Cuaresma); and the main events are usually during February. The Lenten period of the Liturgical year Church calendar, being the six weeks (cuaresma = cuarenta) directly before Easter, was marked by fasting and other penitential practices. Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar. In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of. The consumption of this, in a giant party that involved the whole community, is thought to be the origin of Carnival.
While it forms an integral part of the Christian calendar, particularly in Catholic regions, many carnival traditions resemble those that date back to pre-Christian times. That is the reason why Carnival is sometimes thought to be derived from the ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Bacchanalia.
In Germany and the Netherlands, the Carnival season is traditionally opened on 11/11 (often at 11:11 a.m.). This dates back to celebrations before the former longer Advent season (40 days now reduced to about four weeks), or with harvest celebrations of St. Martin’s Day.
Folk etymologies exist which state that the word comes from the Late Latin expression carne vale, which means “farewell to meat”, signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. The word carne may also be translated as flesh, so suggesting carne vale as “a farewell to the flesh”, a phrase actually embraced by certain Carnival celebrants who encourage letting go of your former (or everyday) self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival.
Carnival in Spain is known for its vibrant costumes and masks; although the Carnival celebration in Spain is not as esthetically beautiful as in Venice nor as over the top and dance orientated as in Brazil. It is a charming event in which people of all ages participate and enjoy. The event allows people to dress up, change their identity and feel freer than during the rest of the year. Participants dress according to their possibilities and imagination and take to the streets to celebrate both night and day; crazy days in which nothing is what it seems and anyone can become whoever or whatever they have always dreamed about being.
The costumes worn are often related to recent news, such as the bird flu epidemic in 2006, during which many people were disguised as chickens. The feeling of the Spanish Carnival is the sharp criticism, the funny play on words and the imagination in the costumes, more than the glamorous dressings. The most famous groups are the chirigotas, choirs and comparsas. They are well known witty, satiric popular groups who sing about politics, new times and household topics, wearing the same costume, which they train for the whole year.
Carnival in Spain usually begins with an opening speech delivered by a local celebrity. Next, the activities begin in the street, lasting for days depending on the city, with parades, costumes, contests and street theatre. The climax takes place on Carnival Tuesday, the last day in which meat can be consumed until Easter, and ends on Ash Wednesday with the Entierro de la Sardina tradition. The Burial of the Sardine is a parody of a funeral in which the sardine is buried, symbolically marking the farewell to life’s pleasures and the arrival of Lent.