Cádiz / Carnival

The satirical song competition is the hallmark of Carnival in Cádiz, one of the “Treasures of Spain”

Carnival in Cádiz has its roots in pagan rituals characterized by indulgence and liberation: the festivals in honor of Bacchus (the god of wine), Saturnalia (dedicated to the god Saturn), and Lupercalia (in honor of the god Pan) in Rome; the Dionysia (in honor of Dionysus) of Greece; the festivals for the ox Apis in Egypt; and other celebrations that took place in Sumer over 5,000 years ago.

These festivals spread from Rome to the rest of Europe and were brought to America in the 15th century by Spanish and Portuguese ships. By that time, Carnival was associated primarily with Catholicism, as it had become a time when morality and propriety were relaxed before the penitence and sacrifice of Lent.

Carnival in Cádiz faced all the obstacles that have historically confronted this festival, which has been intermittently banned and permitted in Spain over the centuries, depending on the severity or tolerance of the ruling government at the time.

However, even through dark times, the people of Cádiz have always kept the festival alive. Carnival in Cádiz evolved due to the contributions that merchants from Genoa brought from Italy in the 15th century. They saw in Cádiz a place from which they could expand trade with northern and central Africa. The masks, streamers, and confetti used in Carnival today are elements adopted from the Italian Carnival celebration.

The earliest written references to Carnival in Cádiz, which is now known around the world, date from the late 16th century. By that time the festival was already very popular, although due to the difficulties it has faced it has been celebrated at different times of year. Since 1977, it has been held in February on varying dates according to the religious calendar that marks the beginning of Lent, coinciding with the first Carnival after the restoration of democracy in Spain. Since then participation and media interest in the event have increased, and it has been the object of national and international news coverage.

Carnival in Cádiz lasts from the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, until the following Sunday, “Domingo de Piñata.” However, the spirit of Carnival remains present in Cádiz throughout the year with Carnaval de los Jartibles (also known as “Carnaval Chiquito” or “Little Carnival”) on the second Sunday of Lent, the “Lo mejó de lo mejón” gala, the “Me Río de Janeiro” festival, a contest for Carnival-related anthologies, and the summertime Carousel of Choruses.

It goes without saying that the city is a bona fide party during Carnival. The streets of Cádiz, decorated with lights, get jam-packed with crowds, especially Calle Columela, one of the most central streets. The party atmosphere starts to heat up days before the official start of Carnival with events called La Pestiñada, La Erizada, and La Ostionada, all of which have a folk essence.

The festival includes parades, cavalcades, dances, musical performances, fireworks, tributes, the burning of the god Momo and the witch Piti, and ceremonies performed by the official Carnival groups (of which there are over 100) as well as other semi-official organizations that take to the streets on the days of the festival.

Much like Carnival in Río de Janeiro (Brazil), there are dazzling parades to the rhythm of samba music. The hallmark of Carnival in Cádiz is the performances by groups who make a mockery of the most cutting-edge current events with their hilarious original songs, which they enter in the Official Contest of Carnival Groups.

The competition, which includes over 100 groups and is held in the Gran Teatro Falla, consists of several rounds of eliminations which after a month culminate in a grand finale on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Groups from all over Andalusia participate in different types of ensembles (choirs, chirigotas, comparsas, quartets) and styles of music (pasodoble, tango, parody, cuplé, refrain, potpourri, miscellaneous). Depending on the type of group, instruments such as snare drums, bass drums, guiro, eunuch flute, kazoo, guitar, bandurria, lute, and claves are used.

There is a long list of Carnival participants who have gone down in history as performers or authors of songs. The list of pregoneros (heralds) of Carnival includes names of writers like José María Pemán, Joaquín Calvo Sotelo, Fernando Quiñones and Rafael Alberti, as well as musicians and artists like Rocío Jurado, Mario Moreno (Cantinflas), Isabel Pantoja, Alejandro Sanz, Sara Baras, and Pasión Vega.

Since 2002, the organization of Carnival has fallen on the Board of the Official Contest of Carnival Groups and Festivals of the Carnival of Cádiz.

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