It seems that nary a week passes by here without celebrating some kind of a holiday. Mostly, this consists of simply not going to class for a day or two, but the uncommonly lively and distinctively Spanish festivities we’ve been patiently awaiting finally arrived in the form of Carnaval.
Carnaval is a celebration that, just like Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, is meant to kick off the season of Lent. Although Carnaval necessarily begins six weeks before Easter, no two nearby cities will celebrate Carnaval on the same day, or even the same weekend. So, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can hop from Gijon, to Ávilez, to Oviedo, and catch the fiesta in every city.
Oviedo’s turn came this past Saturday, and not a day too late. Without even the threat of rain, and an unobstructed sun that might actually make you feel warm in its path (in February!), the city was experiencing incredible luck with conditions for the holiday.
The tradition of Carnaval is to go about the city in full costume. Unlike Halloween, many opt to shun the cover of night and strut shamelessly around town dressed in some such ridiculous get-up—especially the kids. I, for one, decided to hold off a bit and attend the afternoon parade dressed as Tyler Horst.
Working its way up Calle Uría, straight through the heart of the city, Oviedo’s Carnaval parade was a great display of the elaborate, the inane, and in some ways, the enlightening. To become part of the parade, one only needs a good idea and the ability to follow-through. Anyone from civic groups to family and friends can gain approval from the Town Hall to participate, and the result is an interesting mix of costumes and floats that can say a lot about the town that watches them stroll by.
Or maybe not.
Carnaval is often not much more than a time for the people to let their hair down and blow off a bit of steam—a festival that hasn’t strayed far from its origins as a pagan romp. In the midst of an economic crisis that’s a burden on the minds of many, people still say: “The least we can do is have a good time!”
And so, to reflect the more hedonistic sentiments of Carnaval, several costumes in the parade were of the “What the hell is that exactly?” variety.
Some took their opportunity to be briefly in the public eye to make grand political jokes, but surprisingly the float that took the cake for most parade-goers was not anything that had its roots in Spain. Turn on the radio or the television any time of the day and it is impossible to miss the world-wide conquest of American pop culture. It’s penetrated so deeply that some of the crowd favorites for the Carnaval parade was none other than a Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” float, complete with graveyard and dancing zombies, and a Big Daddy from the Bioshock videogame.
It was strange to see Michael alive and well in Oviedo, of all places, and a concrete reminder of how our art and culture go before us and often serve as our primary ambassadors, for better or for worse.
Whether weird, comical, or just plain fun, the amount of dedication put into many floats was impressive. Sure, all those man-hours may have ultimately gone into a one-time gag, but people don’t always do things that make sense. The aim was to have a good time and put a smile on the faces of as many people as possible, and where’s the harm in that?