All I knew about life in Spain before coming here was that nearly every day is a holiday. There’s actually a joke – one that I think might also have some actual facts supporting it – that there are more holidays in Spain than regular days. While I wouldn’t say that this has rung true thus far, there have been plenty of celebrations since I’ve arrived here in Spain.
Semana Santa [Holy Week], San Fermín [Running with the Bulls], La Tomatina [Tomato Festival/Food FIght], and Las Fallas [in Valencia, Burnings] are probably the most well-known festivities in Spain. Another holiday, one that is actually celebrated across the world, just passed during the month of February: Carnaval. Carnaval is celebrated similar to that of Halloween in many countries across the world, usually during the month of February, before the Christian season of Lent begins. For those who don’t know, Lent consists of the 40 days before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Since the Catholic calendar does not consist of dates, but rather quantities of days or weeks, these days are different every year. Given that Spain has a very large Catholic population – and very rich history at that – Carnaval is a special celebration not to be missed if visiting Spain before Ash Wednesday.
My friends and I got to experience Carnaval in three cities: Aviles, Gijon, and our wonderful new home of Oviedo. First up was Aviles, a city about a half hour’s bus ride from Oviedo that actually looks and feels extremely similar to Oviedo – hills, winding streets, and lots of people (for this holiday, a lot of people is better!). Aviles has a very distinct Carnaval with a long-lasting tradition. There is a parade like many other cities – all three Carnavals we attended had parades – but before the parade, it was time for ponchos and rainboots for the tourists and non-dressed-up Spaniards. No, it wasn’t raining, at least not from clouds in the sky. Instead, foam is blasted across the main road through Aviles near the main plaza, with agua gushing out of a large fire-hydrant-like hose into the sky and onto the foam to create a messy mixture that excites the kids and others who brave their way into the mix. Though I didn’t watch much of the parade, I heard plenty of shouts from children about seeing their favorite characters on floats from Frozen to Spongebob.
Gijon and Oviedo definitely had much smaller Carnavals in comparison to Aviles. However, they should certainly not be overlooked for this holiday. The parade in Gijon was epic and reminded me a lot of the Mummer’s Day Parade in Philly. Large groups marched down the route through Gijon in matching outfits and with large (and large amounts of) instruments for dancers to perform to the beat of and to hear traditional and popular songs throughout the night. I didn’t stay very long after, as I wasn’t feeling well that night and it was also held on a Monday. The weekend after Aviles, Carnaval in Oviedo took place and, still feeling sick, I didn’t stay for much for this one either. Carnaval left us with a real sense of home, especially with the parades so similar to those of New Year’s Day, and with lasting memories to say that we braved the foam and the ear-pounding music that came with a true Spanish holiday.