Celebrating Carnival in Northern Spain

Did Someone Say Carnival?

Carnival, or here, carnaval. A time of extremes, crazy costumes, drinking, and partying. It is the celebration of excess right before the beginning of Lent.

And though I was aware of Carnaval (think Mardi Gras and things in South America) it was low on my radar that Spain actively celebrated this holiday.

In fact, huge parties happen in Southern Spain in the Andalucia region, and throughout, though the parties tend to be smaller elsewhere. Both the town I work in, Arnedo, and the town I live in, Calahorra, had a celebration of sorts this past weekend.

At my school in Arnedo, they celebrated by dressing up as a variety of characters from fairy-tales. Each grade had a different costume, from Cat and the Mouse, to Princess and the Frog, to Peter Pan and Captain Hook. The school came alive using simple craft genius like colored trash bags and paper. It was a sight to behold.

All the children were invited onto the playground where chaos reigned and hot chocolate was served. I swear, Spanish children have more energy than I have ever seen (though the chocolate and blaring disco music might have assisted.) They screamed and played and only a handful of them managed to meet the pavement in their chaos. I stood awkwardly on the outskirts, holding my bag and wondering what to do next until a group of the older students pulled me into their dance group. I tell you, some days the children drive me insane, and other’s I love how sweet and funny they can be.

Saturday we took advantage of the wonderful weather that seems to have come out of nowhere- it was in the 70’s and hot in the sun. A group of us went to a menu del dia, which is the greatest part of Spain. Here we go, let me break it down.

You meander down the street, looking at offers for menu del dia and the price. The places in the mall offer menu del dia for 8 or 12 euro, while ones along the main strip have it for around fifteen. Here’s what you get: unlimited bread, (white or red) wine, and water. Your primero- a salad, rice, lasagna, seafood- the list goes on. I ordered paella and it was delicious. Then you get your segundo- this is where the meats and fish come in. I got, wait for it, the cheek of a cow. Yah. It’s delicious. Others around the table got sheep, calamari, and steak. Then you get postre. Your choice of dessert. Chocolate cake, flan, a kind of curdled cream, seasonal fruit… So by the end your full and drunk. It’s like brunch in Washington D.C. but for half the price and twice as much food.

Our fullness encouraged us to walk, so we meandered down to the river. Which is a big deal because for the majority of the months I have been here, there hasn’t been a river. Then we sun bathed like the lazy, drunk Spanish wanna-be’s that we are.



Nobody told me that the parade in Calahorra was going to be pretty amazing. I also was having one of those moments and completely forgot my camera, so all pictures of the parade are courtesy of Zoe.

The parade was a full-blown effort of creativity on behalf of entire families, and I’m pretty sure the entirety of Calahorra made an appearance to watch. It was a marvel of stages on wheels, light up costumes, paints, feathers, and of course, blaring musics. (They played Spice Girls “Wanna Be” for the 100th time since being here. What is it with the love of this song, haha?)

A giant tent was set up in the middle of the Gran Via where they had a DJ from midnight to 3pm. Suffice it to say, we didn’t last till then (2pm was late enough). Not to mention that the longer we stayed, the younger the crowd got. Many of my friends work in the high schools of Calahorra, and the entire night they were being shouted at by students- “Hola! Teacher, teacher, hola!” Hilarious.

Kate for the win working in Arnedo.

Today also marks the beginning of Calahorra festivals. The entire town has off till Monday and there is a huge line-up of fun including running of the bulls, a bull-fight, specials at the bars and clubs, and general chaos. This time I will be sure to bring my camera!