1. a traveling amusement show, having sideshows, rides, etc.
2. any merrymaking, revelry, or festival, as a program of sports or entertainment: a winter carnival.
3. the season immediately preceding Lent, often observed with merrymaking.
Up until two years ago, when I came to Europe for the first time, I would have defined “carnival” as something similar to either #1 or #2 above, probably with some added mention of a ferris wheel and cotton candy. I knew nothing of this third definition of “carnival” and its significance in so much of the world.
Carnival is best-known here as the week before Lent begins when students are free from school, many people are free from work, towns hold lots of special parades, concerts and events, everyone–I mean EVERYone: kids, parents, grandparents, etc.–gets completely decked out in a variety of costumes. To say that the Carnival tradition of craziness has manifested itself nicely in post-dictatorship Spain is an understatement. It seems people here live for this week…or at least that it tides them over until the madness of Spain’s summer fiesta season begins in June.
When I studied abroad in Spain in 2010, some of my classmates were on top of their research on the topic way beforehand and had already scoped out the best place to spend this week of craziness in mid-February: a week for which we, like most students in Europe, didn’t have class. So a bunch of us headed way south to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the Canary Islands. The Carnival festivities there are known to be some of the very best in the world; many say they’re second only to the world-famous Carnival in Rio de Janiero. You can read a lot more about the Las Palmas Carnival festivities (which I highly recommend, btw) in my post about it here.
A snippet of nightlife in Las Palmas during Carnival week:
This year, I was in Bilbao for the Carnival festivities. I can’t say that they were intense as those that I experienced in Las Palmas, but it needs to be taken into account that Carnival brings forth its own scale of “crazy” to which little else can be compared. If on this already-ultra-crazy scale, Las Palmas was a 10, Bilbao still easily qualifies for a 7. That’s pretty impressive considering the 20-or-so degree difference in temperatures (in Fahrenheit, of course ;)) because the biggest and BAMF-est fiestas on this continent take place almost completely outdoors.
I’ve compiled a few video clips from the Carnival action here in Bilbao:
And a few snapshots as well: