Considered as the second most popular International carnival, just behind the carnival held in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is an annual event held each February in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the largest island of the Canary Island, a Spanish archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa. Due to the similarity of the two great carnivals, the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is often referred to as the twin city of Rio de Janeiro.
Every year, more than 250,000 people head to the city of Tenerife to celebrate the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which is simply an explosion of fun, music, colour, freedom and extravagance. Although the festival is celebrated in different cities of the island, the largest event is celebrated in the capital of the island, Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The history of the bright Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is rooted since the time of the earliest European colonists, who brought the traditions of their country to the island in the early 16th century. Possibly in the 17th century, the aristocrats in Tenerife began to organize balls and festivities and costuming balls became fashionable for men to dress in women’s clothing. At a noble wedding in 1638, even King Philip IV dressed in a servant’s costume for making fun. However, the tradition of covering the face with a mask was introduced by the fair sex. In those early days, the Canary women used to cover their faces at every celebration to hide their identities have fun in disguise.
Despite the popularity of the festival, the Catholic Church was against this riot of fun, and the carnival on the Canary Island was banned, during the dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera and General Franco. Nevertheless, despite the ban, the festival continued to take place in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Cadiz in Spain.
Although the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife takes place before Great Lent, around the end of January, it starts with the election of the Queen of the Carnival during the so-called Gala Reina on the Wednesday before the Carnival weekend. The election of the queen involves a competition, in which charming girls parade across the main stage in their rich and beautiful costumes, usually made of feathers, plastic, metal and paper. Generally, the costumes are expensive and are sponsored by the multinational companies on the island. However, as the costumes are heavy and might weigh up to 100 kilograms, the candidates rely on wheeled transportation. The queen is elected by the members of a jury board, composed of members of the municipal corporation and celebrities. After choosing the bridesmaids, the mayor awards the sceptre to the new queen, who is to represent the carnival at the tourism fairs as an ambassador for the Canary Islands.
After the election of the Carnival Queen, the city of Tenerife becomes almost crazy, as every day and night for the next two weeks, all the streets of the city remain alive with joie de vivre, freedom and extravagance. The festivities on the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife start on the Friday before Carnival with an opening parade, which is a riot of bright colours, imagination and luxury.
The craziness reaches its height during the night when thousands of people of all ages in fancy dresses dance until the early hours of the next day. The party continues night after night, when thousands of people come out to the streets to participate, mostly in disguise following the tradition of the carnival. The wildness continues until the Ash Wednesday when at the end of the festivity, the islanders celebrate the Burial of the Sardine.
As the Burial of the Sardine is supposed to be a sad occasion, people gather in the streets wearing black clothes and masks. They pretend to cry and get on the ground as they prepare for the real, but very funny burial of the sardine doomed to burn. In the meantime, the sardine arrives on the scene, after travelling around the city on a carnival float, followed by a funeral procession with non-stop music. It culminates with the burning of a symbolic figure, usually a representation of a sardine, symbolizing the burial of the past to allow society to be reborn, transformed and with new vigour.