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February is often the month of carnal celebrations. The month for dressing up, painting your face, and going out on the town. For letting out the mischievous creature within. And yes, February is also, in theory, a winter month. But that, my dear friends, is of little concern, at 20º latitude.
The Carnival in Santa Cruz de La Palma begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday and lasts until Saturday and into the small hours of Sunday, known as Domingo de Piñata. Its varied programme never lacks the opening with a children’s parade, the traditional street parties (verbenas), the evening dances (in the Royal Yacht Club, the Casino, or the Recreational Society “La Investigadora”), the fancy dress competition, the Ambassadors’ Procession, and the Burial of the Sardine. But there is no doubt that the fame and originality of the Carnival of Santa Cruz de La Palma has spread beyond the island’s frontiers thanks to the Carnival Monday celebrations. On that day, the city relives on a multitudinarious scale the arrival of the indianos, the name given on the Canary Islands to the islanders who emigrated to America, and later returned to the islands. A peculiar talcum powder battle greets those who returned with their parrots in cages, trunks, enormous Havanas, slaves, watch chains and eye glasses, while, all the time, Caribbean music keeps playing. The historic streets of O’Daly and Pérez de Brito staunchly bear the powder throwing, and it takes a few days before the cobblestones recover their original condition. In the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane, talcum powder – as in the rest of the island – is thrown spontaneously and by surprise, regardless of whether the poor bystander is known or not. In 1993, the time-honoured tradition of the Viejas a Caballotas was incorporated into the official programme of celebrations. They are double figures – one of which is a dummy – half old woman, half gentleman, in which the male figure pretends to be riding on the back of the female one, while both dance to a grotesque polka. After the Monday of the Indianos, the Carnival celebration still has a long way to go. The street parties multiply during the week, and local islanders take the opportunity to compete with the ingenuity of their fancy dresses, which they have been preparing for months, in some cases. On Friday, the so-called Piñata Weekend begins, the last big opportunity to show them off. The traditional closing ceremony of the Burial of the Sardine has become one of the main protagonists of the fiesta, especially in the municipalities of Santa Cruz de La Palma, San Andrés y Sauces, and Barlovento (the day it is held varies drastically from one place to another). The event consists of burning a gigantic papier maché fish, which symbolises the end of the fun. Scores of widows, not particularly graceful on their heels, say farewell to the apparent corpse with ostentatious cries of woe. It all ends with a spectacular fireworks display, which then continues again…as a big street party.
- Santa Cruz de la Palma