Carnival in Tenerife, Spain

The Tenerife Carnival Basics:
tenerife carnival
While towns throughout Tenerife shift gears for their own local Carnivals, the spectacular mayhem in Santa Cruz - where it is declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest - easily takes the cake. Catch all the action in Febuary or March, just before the onset of Lent.For detailed information on dates, event schedules, contests, etc., take a look at the official Tenerife Carnival website:

The Tenerife Carnival essentially boils down to having fun, throwing out your inhibitions and becoming what - on a normal basis - you aren't; costumes, masks, erotic themes and cross-dressing, for example, compose a huge part of what makes Carnival such a spectacle. It's about enjoying the satirical approach - through costumes, songs and skits - to popular characters, public figures, situations and events in pure, light-hearted fun. It's about partaking in the excess of everything - food, drink, noise, partying, fun - and, above all, it's about fun and entertainment.

Performers liven up the streets, music electrifies the air, glitzy costumes delight the spectator and annual competitions - honoring high fashion, costumes and various performance groups called "murgas," "rondallas" and "comparsas" - ensure that each year is somehow even more spectacular than the year before.

Weeks and months are spent designing costumes, preparing acts and anxiously awaiting Tenerife's Carnival. Read on to learn more about the traditions and history of the Tenerife Carnival, and plan a trip to Tenerife to check it out in person- you won't regret it!

Tenerife Carnival Traditions:
Carnival gets into full swing exactly one week before Ash Wednesday - and the subsequent beginning of Lent - with the election of the Carnival queen, her court and the junior Carnival queen. With the royal Carnival court elected and ready to go, things really get cracking with a massive, energetic parade featuring music groups, dance troupes, extravagant costumes and decorated floats. Snaking noisily and festively through the streets for hours on end, not even the youngest of children run out of energy.

- Carnival Tuesday -
On the so-called "Carnival Tuesday," the Tenerife Carnival hits its climax with a wild parade known as "El Coso." The city becomes a sea of the brightest colors, the most dynamic rhythms and pure, unbridled happiness as everyone shows off their best- dance, costumes, music, antique cars... the list is endless. Extravagant - yet often rather skimpy - costumes of sparkling sequins and flamboyant feathers complement the upbeat, tropical music hailing from Europe, Africa and Latin America. You can't miss the Carnival Queen and her court- these girls don (or better yet are placed into) elaborate costumes that take months to create and often weigh over 100 kilograms (220 pounds)!

- The "Entierro de la Sardina" -
With things like giant tomato fights and the Running of the Bulls, Spain has garnered quite the reputation for quirky traditions. Ash Wednesday's "Entierro de la Sardina" (Burial of the Sardine) is without a doubt one of the frontrunners in the off-beat category. In Santa Cruz, a giant constructed sardine - yes, as in the fish - perched on a throne is carried through the streets upon its own float, accompanied by an entourage composed of throngs of mourners.

Now don't go expecting to see typical funeral mourners; dressed to the nines in costume, the satirical drama plays out as pregnant men, bawling women, priests, monks and even popes join in the general hysteria of lamenting the passing of the sardine. Representing the spirit of Carnival, the sardine's burial marks the line between the chaotic Carnival and the return to day-to-day normalcy and the onset of Lent.

- The "Piñata Chica" -
While the Entierro de la Sardina represents the end of Carnival, it's really just the beginning of the end, as there are still four days left to party. The definitive end is on the Sunday following Ash Wednesday, when Tenerife says "adios" to the Carnival with the so-called "Piñata Chica," a celebration featuring parades, parties and shows. Following the final parade, the Tenerife Carnival goes out with a literal bang as fireworks light the night sky.

Tenerife Carnival History:
Nowadays, while many don't pay much attention to the connection, Carnival has a link to Christianity. It's a time to throw out your inhibitions and let loose before Lent's much tamer 40 days of reflection and reverence. However, the genuine roots of this planet's wildest party actually have nothing to do with Christianity- the link was created later on down the line.

- Classical Roots -
In reality, Carnival probably originated in classical Rome as a pagan celebration. As winter slowly gave way to spring, Romans welcomed the changes through celebrations dedicated to various gods- amongst them Bacchus (or Dionysus), the god of wine. In fact, the very word "carnival" is likely to stem from "carrus navalis," the Latin term for the wheeled cart used to transport the high priest of the god Bacchus to the bacchanalia, where costumes and songs set the festive tone.

- Carnival in Spain -
How did Carnival get from ancient Rome to the distant Canary Islands? During its peak, the mighty Roman Empire extended to include practically the whole of Europe- an impressive feat that, in turn, led to the spread of many aspects of Roman culture. Throughout France, Spain, Portugal, etc., the Carnival mixed with local traditions to become different in every place.

Later, during Spain's medieval epoch, the adamantly pro-Catholicism Spanish monarchy took it upon itself to "adjust" Carnival's significance more to its liking. The festival's religious undertones were contrived, the origins of the word "carnival" were changed to having come from the term "carne levare," referring to the abandonment of meat during Lent.

- Carnival in Tenerife -
Despite ultra-Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabel's expressed distaste for the uninhibited debauchery of Carnival, the festival arrived to the Canary Islands with the 15th century Spanish conquest of the archipelago. Due to the islands' location off the coast of Africa in the middle of the trade route between Spain and Latin America, the Tenerife Carnival features influences from all three cultures- the borderline excessive use of feathers, for example, hails from African culture.

The rest is history, as Tenerife has launched its Carnival celebration into what it is today: a lively, creative and mildly chaotic celebration rivaling that of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.