By BRIDGET BALCH
If there’s one thing you learn right away about Spain, it’s that they know how to throw a good party. It seems like there’s some festival or celebration going on nearly every week. The most recent festival of note was Carnival, which is similar to the French celebration of Mardi Gras. It precedes Ash Wednesday, which, according to Catholic tradition, is the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, when Catholics are supposed to fast and give up something they like in solidarity of Jesus’ death.
Over time, the festival has lost much of its religious significance and has become more of a cultural event where people come together just to have a good time. In Spain, Carnival is not limited to one day, or even one week. Many cities and towns celebrate Carnival during different weeks, and many people move with the party, spending one weekend celebrating in one place and then visiting a neighboring town to celebrate the next weekend. When Carnival weekend is over in one city, many people look forward to celebrating it all over again in another city.
In many ways, Carnival is like Halloween in the United States, but without the ghosts and ghouls. Everybody dresses up in some sort of costume, and I mean everybody. From children and teenagers to parents and grandparents, the streets are full of princesses, police officers, zoo animals, and just about anything you can imagine. The Spanish really go all out with their costume designs. Many families and groups of friends dress up with the same theme. I saw one family who were all dressed as giraffes: baby, parents and even grandparents included. There was another family with small children who were all dressed up as pirates and had very elaborately decorated their strollers to look like pirate ships.
The celebrations last from the Friday night until the Tuesday before Lent, and everyday you can see people in costume walking around. During the day there are many activities for children, including a parade and a fair with rides, face painting, and games. At night, the bars and clubs are full past capacity with young adults in masquerade. Here, on a normal Friday or Saturday night, most people will stay out until five or six in the morning. During Carnival, it isn’t rare to stay out later.
Having a good time is a very important part of Spanish culture. From enjoying a glass of wine with a friend over a two-hour lunch break to celebrating festivals like Carnival, the Spanish live with the belief that the most important thing to do with your life is to enjoy it.