The carnival in Tenerife is said to be second only to that of Rio. Gorgeous girls, stunning costumes, marching bands , music and happy mayhem. Though tied to Easter celebrations elsewhere there is nothing at all religious about this month-long party.
Each year a different theme is chosen and the carnival kicks off with the presentation of the Carnival Queen Contestants. Days of band and murga (comedic folk singers) contests and concerts follow and culminate in the Grand Parade. Though the Grand Parade is really the highlight of the Carnival season, more events follow. Festivities focus on Santa Cruz to begin with but gradually spread out to other areas as each town and village celebrates its own fiesta.
Traditionally carnival was the day of finishing up meat (carne va or meat goes) before the period of lent so families would have a big feast and often neighbours would be invited and as usual in Tenerife it didn’t take much to turn this into a general get together and fiesta with everyone taking to the streets to celebrate.
The upper classes seeing all this revelry would have liked to join in, but class distinction would not allow it, until a few (no doubt younger) enthusiastic revellers hit upon the idea of going out into the streets to join in the merriment wearing masks to disguise their identity. As with all the various groups and entertainers in carnival they have their own group name, these particular incognitos are known as Mascarillas. They are accompanied by Murgas, satirical street bands, Comparsas, dance groups and Rondallas, groups of singers. These are not just groups of people getting together for a good time but dedicated club members, often with several generations involved, who work on costume making, fund raising and practicing routines all through the year.
For an island that until very recently was very puritanical some of the costumes are little more than bikinis with feathered head dresses or see through tops with a couple of strategically placed stars. Nobody seems to mind or place any shame on young girls (or not so young in some cases) parading the streets for hours with little on and that which is covered getting well shaken in bountiful harmony.
The choosing of the carnival queen is an all night, eagerly awaited, televised spectacle; the dresses for this are sponsored by various larger local companies with the costs running into many thousands of Euros. These dresses are used once only and the successful ones are often housed in especially built display rooms at or near to the receptions or showrooms of the sponsoring companies. Recently the organising committee has had to limit the overall size of the creations (dresses) many of which have wheels built in to assist the queen’s movement, yes honestly, take a good look at the photos and compare the height of the girls with the height and width of the dresses.
Apart from the singing, dancing, parading and joking by organised groups there are also live bands and dancing in the open air for everyone most nights from around 2300 until daylight. There are official stalls all around the streets selling drinks and ‘tapas’ to the thirsty, hungry revellers, these stalls and their positions are bid for by tender each year and sell for amazing amounts of money to help offset the huge costs of carnival. All manner of other events are grouped under the banner of carnaval from football to clay pigeon shooting to vintage car rallies, there is literally something for everyone.
Tenerife carnival is finished with the burial of the sardine; a huge papier-mache sardine is paraded through the city followed by hundreds of weeping ‘widows’ this gives the Tenerife male population one last chance to dress as widowed ladies, all in black, the only thing is that their idea of ‘widows weeds’ is mini dress and fishnet tights! Woe betide any good looking young tourist innocently watching proceedings, he’s likely to be showered with kisses from the widows. The sardine is then burnt accompanied by the inevitable massive firework display.
It is said in Tenerife that nothing happens for two weeks before carnival because everyone is busy getting ready, then of course nothing can happen during carnival because companies only work a couple of hours a day so there is no time and after carnival nothing happens because everyone is recovering from carnival. Then Puerto de la Cruz starts it’s carnival, followed by Los Cristianos!