A History of Tenerife Carnival and its Traditions

The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a riot of colour and celebration held every year in February on the largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife. This is one of the Canary Islands’ biggest celebrations and the history behind it is almost as fascinating as the event itself.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Tenerife’s carnival is the second most popular of its kind in the world after the Rio de Janeiro carnival in Brazil, which Santa Cruz is twinned with, and dates back hundreds of years to the island’s earliest European settlement in the late 15th century.

The Spanish conquest in 1494 brought with it many things from South America, like animals, produce, traditions and of course, the carnival! Written accounts of this early carnival date back to visitors from the 18th century who reported seeing comparsas, live bands playing conga music from Cuba. Alongside the Cuban music was murga, a type of musical theatre from Uruguay, and rondall, medieval Spanish acoustic music, also popular in Mexico. These connections to South America have remained strong and visitors can still see these exotic types of music performed at the carnival today.

Each year more than 250,000 people descend onto the pretty capital city of Santa Cruz for the carnival and in 1980, it was made a Tourist Festival of International Interest by the Secretary of State for Tourism. Then in 1987, the Guinness World Records declared the carnival the largest outdoor concert, and in 2000 it was voted the Carnival Capital of the World over Rio de Janeiro and London’s Notting Hill Carnival.

Alongside the music, dancing and incredible floats which proceed through the streets of Santa Cruz, there are many special traditions like the crowning of the carnival queen, piñata, and the burial of the sardine, or ‘entierro del sardino’ as it’s known locally. The burial of the sardine is one of the oldest traditions and is held on the last day of the carnival. A giant paper sardine is carried through the carnival by dancers dressed as nuns, bishops and priests representing a funeral march. The big fish-shaped effigy is then burnt as sacrifice for the coming Lent celebrations.

Since 1987, the carnival has had a different theme each year ranging from ancient Egypt to pirates, space and horror films, amongst many others. The 2016 event will have a 1980’s theme so if you’re planning a visit next year get your spandex, big hair and neon at the ready!

The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is held in February and exact dates are yet to be confirmed for 2016, but this is certainly an event to schedule in and add some tradition, sparkle and cheer to next year’s holiday.

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