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Thought by the church to be blasphemous and by the authorities to be subversive, attendance at Carnaval (the Spanish spelling) was frowned upon and so the practice of wearing costumes and masks developed to hide an individual’s identity and allow them to carouse without fear of recrimination.
Franco banned Carnaval in 1937 on the grounds that it provided the ideal climate for crime to flourish undetected. With the Second World War and Franco’s ban in place, Carnaval kept a low profile until 1945 when it re-emerged clandestinely in Tenerife, people wearing cloth hoods with holes cut for eyes and mouth and confining their revelry to their homes.
Being a former Governor of the Canary Islands and knowing Tenerife’s low crime rate, Franco chose to turn a blind eye to the “Winter Fiestas” as they became known in the 1960s, but he never repealed his ban and it stayed in place until his death in 1975. The following year, for the first time in nearly 40 years, festivities could be openly paraded under the true title of ‘Carnaval’.
The ‘Burial of the Sardine’ used to denote the demise of Carnaval but nowadays marks the half way point on Ash Wednesday; hordes of weeping ‘widows’ follow a funeral cortège for a giant papier mâché sardine down to the harbour where the ‘corpse’ is set alight amidst an extravaganza of fireworks and a cacophony of banshee wailing.
The ‘Gran Cosa Apoteosis’ or closing parade of Carnaval used to involve the throwing of huevos tacos which were eggshell and cloth balls held together by paste and thrown onto the passing parade from windows and balconies. In 1906 they were banned on health and safety grounds as some people were apparently being over zealous in their use, to be replaced by the confetti and streamers that we see today; the expression “have somebody’s eye out” must surely have come into the discussions.
But Carnaval hasn’t just lost some of its old traditions; it’s also re-discovered some and invented entirely new ones.
Rapidly becoming the highlight of Puerto’s Carnaval and attracting over 10,000 spectators in 2005, registration for the High Heels Marathon takes place in Plaza del Charco where contestants have their heels measured for regulation minimum height by the event’s compère; a Lily Savage lookalike in bouffant wig, false eyelashes that cause a draft when she blinks and heels that would induce vertigo in a lesser mortal.
Outrageous and convoluted costumes are de riguer; a troupe of bathing beauties totter into the arena, shower rails and curtains threaded through a turban head towel with matching towel pinned around the torso and loofahs in hand; a dozen devils clad in fireman red synthetic leather hot pants, horns and capes; crabs whose bright red pincers catch in everything. Contestants avail themselves of free beer from the side of the stage; not for these insouciant athletes the isotonic properties of a high energy drink, what’s needed is the bolstering benefits of a beer or two to oil the heels, although, watching some contestants try to negotiate elaborate costumes into the narrow doorway of the portaloos later it becomes clear that it isn't just the heels which are an issue .
Obstacles are then placed at various intervals along the route; eight tyres laid together in two rows, a stepladder onto a platform, a seesaw and the first ‘sprinters’ appear, stumbling precariously up ladders, helped by teams of assistants on hand to ensure no-one actually breaks an ankle, or worse, a nail during the proceedings. After the first two or three pass, an endless wait as the main body of the race amble and perform to the crowds; obstacles are negotiated with pantomime difficulty and underwear and assorted ‘accessories’ are brandished and flaunted.
When all the contestants have finally made it back to the Plaza, prizes are awarded in a multitude of categories, each winner ascending the stage to the booming strains of It’s Raining Men and the whole affair melts imperceptibly into another night of partying til dawn, and not a pancake in sight.
Election of Santa Cruz Carnaval Queen:
26 Feb 2014
Santa Cruz Opening Parade:
28 Feb 2014
Santa Cruz Closing Parade:
4 Mar 2014
Santa Cruz Burial of the Sardine:
5 Mar 2014
Carnaval de Día
8 Mar 2014
Election of Puerto de la Cruz Carnaval Queen:
27 Feb 2014
Puerto de la Cruz Opening Parade:
Puerto de la Cruz Burial of the Sardine:
5 Mar 2014
Puerto de la Cruz 'Put on Your High Heels' Drag Marathon:
7 Mar 2014
Puerto de la Cruz Closing Parade:
8 Mar 2014
Become part of Carnaval: The parades are great spectacles, but they are ‘spectacles’. The true heart of Carnaval in Tenerife lies in the street parties. Instead of being a spectator, become a ‘Carnaval goer’.
All that’s required is to use a bit of imagination and dress up a little. If you’re a man visiting with your female partner, then borrowing her clothes is perfectly acceptable (maybe not to her). Cross dressing is pretty much obligatory, but anything will do. Trust us it does make a difference. If you’re in fancy dress you’ll see a very different Carnaval in Tenerife; one that’s unforgettable.
Don’t arrive too early. Carnaval in the street doesn’t hit its stride until around midnight. By then those not in fancy dress will be the odd ones out. From then enjoy the week long party; it’s a great atmosphere and one which many visitors never experience.
The theme of carnival in Santa Cruz 2014, chosen by Santa Cruz residents, is Cartoons. Not that it makes a lot of diffence to what people wear.
To be announced.