Celebrating Lent in Spain

March 24, 2011
Celebrating Lent in Spain

Just as in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, Spain also celebrates the week before Lent with citywide parties. The difference is that in Spain, the party continues after Lent has already started. Doesn’t make sense? No, not to me either, but participate I did.

Two weekends ago I went, with 60 of my closest friends (it was an organized trip) to Cadiz for Carnaval. There are carnavales in cities all over the country, but Cadiz has one of the largest. Cadiz is a city in the South of Spain; it is actually the furthest western point of the country.

I have heard that it is really nice, but in all honestly the party was in the two major plazas which were right next to each other, so that is primarily where we stayed. Everyone was dressed up in something and having a great time just letting loose.

Something really interesting that my friend pointed out was that there were a lot more men who dressed up with women, but not necessarily as a couple. For example, we were at lunch and we saw a group of girls in bee costumes and with them were some guy friends wearing the exact same bee costumes (which happened to be yellow and black dresses).

This is not something you would ever see in the States although you do see men dressing up as women. I don’t really know what to make of this observation, but it is interesting nonetheless.

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Anyhow, back to the Carnaval. It was an all out festival starting at 3 pm and not ending until the wee hours of the next day. These festivals had been happening for the past three weekends.

The next weekend, last weekend, I went to Valencia for Las Fallas. Although not officially part of the Carnavales, Las Fallas is along the same line. What happens is that the different neighborhoods in Valencia build large, plastic statues satirizing different elements of cultures around the world. Each Falla is made up of a little one, about 5 and ½ feet high, and a big one, about 30 feet high and there is one on practically every street corner.

Throughout the week there are parades and parties and then on Saturday night, starting at 10 o’clock pm, the communities burn the little ones by shooting off fireworks under them. It is amazing to watch. Then, starting at midnight the big ones go up in flames with the largest one, in the main plaza, blowing up at 1 am.

Spaniards do not, generally, sweat the small stuff.

While the Fallas are exploding there is dancing in the street and people running around setting off fireworks in the street. The whole time everyone is laughing, smiling, and drinking Agua de Valencia (not quite just the water that you are all thinking of).

For me, this experience of enjoying life even though it is meant to be a very serious holiday is the epitome of a Spanish life. Spaniards do not, generally, sweat the small stuff. Although Spain is a Catholic country and everyone is following Lent, they are also not letting it impede the way that they live, and enjoy, their day-to-day lives.

Maybe people are happy because they siesta, because of the sun, or because they let loose. Regardless of the reason, the fact that the Spanish have big parties regardless of the holiday, and still maintain the sanctity of the holiday is amazing. That is my favorite part about living in Spain; the ability to balance work and play.


Photo credit for Celebrating Lent in Spain by Unsplash. 

About Sarah Surrey

Sarah Surrey is a graduate of Pitzer College. She spent her junior year at the University of Murcia in Spain, where she studied 20th century Spanish theatre and its relationship to English theatre.

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