A brief history: I originally thought Carnaval always had Catholic ties, but I recently learned it was a pagan tradition at first. Carnaval originated as a means of finishing winter preserves towards the end of the season, before the food would spoil. People had huge feasts and celebrated what would essentially be their last good meal until the end of winter.
These acts of gluttony were initially viewed as heretical by the church, hence the use of costumes. Masks disguised people so that they would not be recognized while going against the church. Eventually the church came to accept the festivities, and today most people dress up and go to see parades and listen to music. Each city’s Carnaval is distinct with its own traditions and themes. Some places, like the Canary Islands, (or Rio de Janeiro) have huge parades and serious costume and float competitions—the costumes and floats take the whole year to create and have the finest details. I was lucky to visit three different Carnavals.
Aviles: The first city I went to was Aviles, which holds the biggest celebration in the Principality of Asturias, the region I reside in. There they have a tradition of spraying foam everywhere and people, particularly children slide through the foam. The theme in Aviles was Africa this year, so they had floats representing different countries or aspects of Africa. For example, one float had pyramids to represent Egypt, while another portrayed the 2010 World Cup which took place in South Africa, and that Spain one. There was also a concert after the parade with traditional Carnaval singing and dancing.
Gijon: Next I visited Gijon, another city in Asturias. Gijon was like Aviles but on a much smaller scale. There was a parade and everyone was dressed up. There was some traditional dancing in the street, and then a mini concert with a DJ in the main square. Though it felt a little more disorganized than that of Aviles, I still had a great time and loved dressing up and dancing with my friends.
Oviedo: The final city I attended Carnaval festivities in was Oviedo, the city I’m currently studying in. Oviedo’s parade was my favorite because all the groups would go on stage with their respective floats and perform. The floats and costumes displayed a wide array of categories from The Lord of the Rings, to flapper girls, to traditional Spanish clothing and dance. After the parade marching bands played through the streets, and everyone young and old hangs out in costume.
I feel really lucky that I got to partake in something that is an integral part of the culture here!