Festival or Fiesta Carnival Alicante. The long awaited Alicante Carnival is here at long last..  Carnival is what exactly?  The festival called Alicante Carnival is a festive season that occurs before the Christian season of Lent.  The main events typically occur during February or early March. Festive Carnival in Alicante is colourful and in costume; Carnival is a time to eat, drink and be merry in Alicante.

Carnival typically involves a public celebration and/or parade combining some elements of a circus, masks and public street party. People wear masks during many such celebrations, an overturning of life's normal things.

Mystical medieval music, court-jesters, games, masks, cross-dressers, parades, the ’wake’, a ‘funeral’, the following of the black procession, the burning of the Sardine, pyrotechnics, … what more could you ask for in a pagan celebration in the midst of winter?

Cue the Bond movie with Jane Seymour as the virginal beauty, and the macabre sets of voodoo and coffins and the extremely tall priest with the towering top hat (Baron Samedi).  The tantalising lilt of flutes, piccolos and guitars, mandolin, lute and banjo, and the sounds of castanets.

All expressions of haunting exquisite melodies, interleaved with base note drums and teased cymbals to the more mysterious minor keys, evocative of mystic pagan rites.  In the narrow streets of Alicante, it was uncannily evocative of the Rome Carnival as depicted in the movie remake of Count of Monte Cristo; the costumes, the music, the atmosphere.

This 10-day affair could have been directly from the middle ages, it was surreal.  To have normal citizens going about their business in Alicante in the day time, and at night … this!

We visited Alicante on four separate nights during Alicante Carnival. The feel and the costumes of each day was markedly different.  Popular practices included wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions with cross-dressing, parody and dancing. 

gigantes: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, dancing giants parade, defiles gigante
big head: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, dancing big heads parade, defiles cabezudos

On the Friday there was a procession of satirical flavour, and also of the ‘giants’, depicting the years’ events by masks and floats. A feeling of this carnival is the irony and parody, the funny play on words and the imagination in the costumes, more than the glamorous dressings.

On the Saturday a massive street party.  Many roads were blocked off in the centre of Alicante, where people wearing all manner of oddball fancy dress came out to play, have a raucous time and be entertained.  Live music and stage shows. There were even parties in local tapas bars, and restaurants, with customers dressed in their masks and finery and having a revellers meal then going out to nightclubs to party-on until dawn.

santa: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, Santa Claus costume, chicken costume, festive cheer

From Santa and a chicken...

butterflies: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, many butterflies costume, festive cheer

...to butterflies...  

spaceman: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, Captain Spaceman costume, festive cheer

...to Captain Spaceman.

Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" (in ethnic English tradition, it's Shrove Tuesday), before Ash Wednesday.

bloke with big camera / medieval #1-: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, harlequin costume, court jester, cameraman, strolling troubadours, drummer, medieval music spectators
carrying the puppet / medieval #2.: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, court jester, strolling troubadours, carry the puppet, narrow cobbled alleyway, medieval music spectators
narrow street shot / medieval #3: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, harlequin costume, court jester, strolling troubadours, medieval music spectators, narrow alleyway, plaza

The name predated the Reformation and referred to the common Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.  On Tuesday, a satirical play where a man puppet was tied to a chair and declared condemned for a heinous crime. 

The declaration is pronounced with much fervour and ranting by the crowd.

The chair and puppet are then hoisted up and carried along through the old town, weaving up and down narrow back streets in a procession, accompanied by minstrels and flaming torches.

The procession marched along to the rat-ata-tat of drums and piccolo playing almost as if the pied piper of Hamelin was leading the rats to the river.

The procession ended at a square ringed with tall palm trees, and the condemned-man-puppet gets thrown from the first floor to his doom, a ker-splat on the ground, with great fanfare and cheering.
 

puppet about to be thrown / mediaeval #4: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, at the plaza condemned man about to be thrown from upper window

On Wednesday, a mournful yet humorous sight: a ‘wake’: the mourners were there in throngs; more and more mourners joined in as the night wore on… they were saying goodbye to the ‘Sardine’.  There were cross-dressers with all the finery of beautiful black costumes and getups, and well as the more dark, Gothic look; harlequin costumes,  animal masks…. some relevant background information here on the relevance of the 'Sardine'.    

sardine #1: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, one unhappy sardine trying to make a point
sardine #2: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, doomed sardine carried through darkened streets by throng of people, festive lights
black mourners: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, darkened street, dressed in black, in mourning, top hat and tails
 
Jacq with grim reaper: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, darkened street, dressed in black, meet Grim Reaper
 

At each stop on the way to the funeral pyre in a square further on, solemn chants and candles were lit – all black-coated and black-hatted men and ladies, dancing in the streets was the order of the day (night) though, with a sombre feel.  Then when the square was reached, the last rites were given… and Sardine was doused with lighter fluid… and Stand Well Clear !

There were a lot of aaaarghs, and oooaaahhh.. and the flames drew nearer and nearer the spectators. We, of the camera brigade, took lots of photos despite feeling the intense heat of the spectacle. The Sardine was given a merry incineration with fireworks and pyrotechnics.

Then the music started up again, with lively medieval sounds, echoing in the darkened square, slightly reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil tapestry of artistry and surrealism.  Evocative and emotional, amidst the Black Man dance.

blk/red with horns: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, darkened plaza, bright-lit stage, spectators dressed in black and red, dance court jester with gold horns
cross dresser: spain Alicante Carnival Fiesta, Costa Blanca, darkened plaza, bright-lit stage, spectators dressed in black and red, black man dance, skimpily dressed singer in drag, musicians

There is nothing quite like it in the experiences we’ve had in fiestas before – Alicante Carnival is one of a kind; so many pre-concieived ideas of what a ‘Carnival’ entails, and this was even better; a bit of New Orleans, a bit of Venice, some of Rio de Janeiro, and lots of medieval rhythms and music … but wholly Spanish!  We’ll definitely be coming back next year, with serious costumes – can’t wait.