Carnival is celebrated all around the world just before the fasting season of Lent. Here in Spain, the week leading up to Lent is a time for wild partying when anything goes,  and many cities play host to some of Europe’s biggest and best Carnival festivals.

Some theories speculate that Carnival has its origin in the Roman Saturnalia,  a pagan festival where people indulged in much eating and drinking.  An alternative theory is that it comes from ‘farewell to the flesh’ (carne =meat and valle= farewell), again a reference to the excesses that led up to the sombre Lent. With these pagan roots and widespread ‘permissiveness’, it’s no wonder that the dictator General Franco banned the festival for forty years!

Carnival in Spain is celebrated nationwide, although the most well-known festivities are in the Canary Islands, Cadiz and Sitges. While each town has its own unique flavour of celebration, they all have a devotion to having a good time. No one seems to sleep, as the drinking and dancing go from dusk until dawn. You’ll see extravagant costumes and people in masks everywhere, with parades and fancy dress events culminating in the traditional Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday.

The sardine is a symbol which reminds the people that now they will be eating fish instead of meat – some Catholics still observe the tradition of not eating meat on miércoles de Ceniza and on Fridays during Lent. This is the event that truly symbolises the end of the good times and the beginning of a period of abstinence.

In Catalunya Carnival is a particularly exciting time as celebrations were illegal under Franco’s rule. So, since the end of his dictatorship in 1980 people have been making up for all of those years without a carnival!

As for Carnival in Rio, Venice, New Orleans … (sigh) follow the links and enjoy them virtually. But don’t despair, there’s also London’s Notting Hill Carnival in August!



31st of October, ‘All Saints’ Eve’ or, if you’d prefer, ‘Halloween’, the night when the spirits of the dead walk the Earth. Both traditions have common roots dating as far back as the ancient Celts’  Samhain  (pronounced sow-an or sow-in) festival, which marked the end of the harvest season and the old year, amongst other things.

In Catalonia, on ‘All Saints’ Eve’ we celebrate the traditional ‘Castanyada’, which receives its name from the ‘castanyes‘ (chestnuts) that are typical of that night. People also eat sweet potatoes and ‘panellets, sweet cakes made of almond, pine nuts and sweet potatoes. The following day, ‘All Saints’  (‘All Souls’ Day) is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where prayers and flowers are offered, candles are lit and the graves themselves are cleaned, repaired and repainted.

Today’s Halloween celebration is a little different from what it used to be. It involves carved pumpkins (the so-called Jack O’Lantern) trick-or-treating, wearing costumes and attending costume parties, ghost tours, bonfires, visiting haunted attractions, pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films. The drawback… November the 1st is not a holiday in the US…

See the following National Geographic short video for some more interesting facts about the origins of Halloween: