When talking about carnivals the first thing that comes to mind is usually Rio de Janeiro, and also the well known Venice’s one. Two cultures and two different styles, who in common share the use of bright costumes and makeup.
In Catalonia there are also some popular carnivals, although they are generally unknown outside our borders.
The carnivals I know best are the ones of Vilanova and Sitges, that represent divergent concepts such as Venice and Rio, but curiously these two towns are separated only by 7 kms…
The Sitges Carnival (30,000 hab.) mirrors Rio de Janeiro, thus its highlights are the two carnival parades on Sunday and Tuesday night, the latter called ‘annihilation parade’, which contains everything you’d expect to see at a classic carnival parade: dressed carriages, troupes of girls (and boys) disguised with plumes and sequins dancing in the streets, festive music, etc … but unlike Rio all this fuss takes place in a temperature usually below 10ºC.
The carnival of Vilanova (66,000 hab.) instead is absolutely original and has nothing to do with any carnival you may know of, especially on carnival Sunday morning when the ‘comparses’ (troupes) populate the city.
These carnival troupes instead of gathering people disguised in funny ways, are composed of uniformed couples: the girls wear Manila shawls and two carnation flowers in the hair; men wear the typical Catalan Phrygian cap (“barretina”) and a jacket with the color of their society.
The troupes stroll the city in groups of 10 to 50 or more couples, following a flag of their society and accompanied by a small band that plays an old Spanish army march – “El Turuta” (The bugle guy), that is the anthem of Vilanova’s carnival – and dancing pieces as paso-dobles.
While the groups of different flags – a current year there can be more than a hundred flags around the streets of Vilanova – stroll ‘jumping’ in the streets, the men throw handfuls of candy to the pedestrians. It’s like a parody of a military parade: people jumping instead of marching, the only weapons are the hands of men, and the projectiles colored candy that visitors from all over the country gather eagerly.
After hours of laps through the city, the different flags gather in groups of 20 in the main square of the village in front of the Town Hall, where the final ‘battles’ are held, and men from every society throw the candy to the other societies troupers until their traditional checkered scarfs with candy they carry are completely empty.
The ‘battle’ begins when all the flags have entered the square and the announcer proclaims, “Comparsers: The square is yours!!”
Due to the thousands of candy cast, there’s a cloud of sugar in the air causing a sweet smell that permeates the city, while leaving a sticky coating on the soles of the shoes to all who walk in Vilanova that day.
The people of Vilanova enjoy the carnival from their childhood onward, and join the troupes from the moment they are able to stand and walk. The children’s troupes have their own battles to another place and are always accompanied by a parallel row of moms and dads. Anyway they will stroll the streets on carnival’s Sunday in spite of the rain or the stormy weather.
Anyone who has gone out in a troupe on carnival Sunday ‘jumping’ dancing and throwing candy in the streets of Vilanova, will bring the carnival virus in the blood for the rest of his/her life, and when listening to the ‘Turuta’ s’ melody will thrill and jump led by the rhythm of the music … I tell you from my own experience!
If you are lucky to visit Barcelona’s area in the next 4th to 10th of February, please pay a visit to Vilanova and Sitges !!
You can get more info by browsing the sites of both carnivals: