In my experience no-one knows how to party more than the Senegalese, but even a Senegalese friend once said to me that he’d never seen so many excuses for celebration as there are on this island! I don’t have the patience to work it out, but if you are mathematically minded, I would not be at all surprised if you could prove that there is a fiesta or a romeria or a carnival somewhere in Tenerife every week of the year.
About Carnaval, I will try to be brief because there is, simply, too much to say, and most of it has already been said by people far better qualified than I. I touched on it last year, and found some YouTube videos I thought reflected the atmosphere quite well http://islandmomma.wordpress.com/2009/02/
The Carnaval in Tenerife is the second biggest in the world, the first being in Rio. It’s the same thing as Mardi Gras, for my American friends, which means it is the day we know as Shrove Tuesday in England (oh my gosh, when we get to eat pancakes in the UK!). It’s also known as Fat Tuesday, because it marks the beginning of Lent, so that in days of old all fats and goodies were gobbled up before fasting before Easter. It is hugely important here. Banks close at 12.30 usually during Carnaval week – oh, not only in Santa Cruz, but throughout the island. This so that revellers can sleep in the afternoons, because they will be dancing all night, getting home at dawn and a quick change before going to work. Yes, some people do that every day for the week. The entire celebration actually begins a couple of weeks before that, with various competitions, but moves out onto the streets in that final week. The final act is known as the Burial of the Sardine, and after that a kind of watered down version takes place in other municipalities – Puerto de la Cruz and Los Cristianos most notably, but elsewhere too…..so much for fasting for Lent!! There is no obligation to get legless every night. In fact, I know lots of people who get high just on the dancing and the vibe, which makes it a very cheap night, especially if you share a car, although buses run all night to different parts of the island, which means no-one will fall asleep at the wheel, or just wait until it comes to a town near you. Fancy dress, by the way, is optional, but indubitably adds to the fun! And the dancing? Salsa rules, but if you can’t it’s really easy to watch and pick up the basic steps – NOBODY will care about how good you are!
Next on the list, so far as partying goes, would be a local fiesta. Every town on the island has one usually to mark the feast day of its patron saint. If it’s your first year living here you will know when it’s coming up when they begin to put up the bunting at the beginning of the week, and the town square sprouts barriers, portable bars and portaloos. In Los Abrigos I always knew that was when it was time to move into the back bedroom for the week.
It was founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, who wondered about why the devil should have all the best tunes, but I figure that the popes of yore knew a thing or two as well, because essentially these are supposed to be religious festivals, but the night time is devoted to music, whether it’s more salsa, folk or just plain pop . Usually, at least on the Sunday of the week, the statues are taken from the local church, bedecked with flowers and ribbons and candles, and paraded through the streets, sometimes this happens on other days as well, and the procession is always accompanied by loud, and I mean LOUD rockets. So far, I haven’t delved into the origin of those. I’m betting on warding off evil spirits maybe. In coastal towns they are taken down to the harbour and out to sea. The idea being that they will bless the land or the ocean and bring in plentiful bounty (I wonder if anyone has told them about over-fishing in the North Atlantic? But, hey, I digress). An open air mass is said before or after the procession returns, depending on where you are, or how the priest is feeling on the day.
Blessings and prayers having been taken care of, the statues are next placed so that they have a ringside seat for one of the best firework displays you will ever, ever see. When I eventually got to go to Disney World the only thing which disappointed was the firework display in Magic Kingdom because the ones here are equally as good. Sometimes all of that happens on the Saturday night, and is followed by a more seriously religious version during the daytime on Sunday, like I said, it depends on where you are or who’s organized it or whatever. If you are somewhere like Los Cristianos please remember this is NOT a tourist attraction, this is part of the local culture, the fireworks are part of the celebration, and not an attraction that starts bang on time, go to Disney World if you want punctuality. After the fireworks, there is dancing till dawn again, in the local square or designated area.
http://www.guiatenerife.com/fiestas.asp for a list of fiestas throughout the island. You would be most unlucky to be here for a couple of weeks and not find one!
If you look at that list you will see that some fiestas are described as romerias. Romerias to my mind are more like a harvest festival kind of celebration, although they take place throughout the year, but then the climate here means that growth is a continual thing, so that there is no harvest season as such. Romerias, for instance, happen in inland villages, and center around a weekend procession with an agricultural theme. Carts pulled by oxen and animals are very much part of the parade, and decorations are more, well, kind of harvest-like, as well as the usual bunting.
For me these are the best if you want a local experience, and a sense of the island’s history. They are most definitely not aimed at tourists, but as a foreigner you are made more than welcome. Canarians love to share their culture. There will be ladies in Canarian dress walking around offering you bites of gofio kneaded together with nuts and honey, empanadas or local cheeses swimming in mojo (no…you’ll have to look those up or wait for when I talk about it again). Sometimes there is an entire free meal, meatballs, rabbit stew or something authentic, although I did have paella once, and that is Spanish not Canarian. The drink is not free, but is way cheaper than in tourist resorts of course, and sometimes there is a glass of wine included, although I suspect La Crisis will be curtailing some of these goodies this year.
Once the parade is over, mass said, and thanks given, local dance groups take over the town square to demonstrate their skills. These Baile de Magos (peasant dances), the ladies in their dirndl skirts and the guys in their waistcoats and cummerbunds remind me of the English country dancing we used to do at school. I suppose that somehow or other maybe all the folk culture of Europe can be connected. After the display is over, as dusk begins to settle, a band strikes up for – guess what – dancing till dawn – again.
You will find information here about dates of romerias http://www.todotenerife.es/index.php?sectionID=45&lang=2&s=10&ID=4934
Joining in any of these events will give you a much better idea of who Canarians really are. I have never felt more welcome, as a stranger, than at any local romeria.
There are other one-off fiestas too, like El Día de las Tradiciones in the tiny village of Chirche, above Guia de Isora or Las Fiestas del Mayo in any town with the word cruz (cross) in its title – it’s the celebration of the Holy Cross. If you want to check these out, and if you can manage it, try researching the Canarian sites rather than the English language ones to get a wider view, many of them, like the ones I’ve included here, now have English translations. Websites for local town halls are useful, just put in ayuntamiento guia de isora tenerife, for instance, or any other municipality and you will find the section for fiestas or community events. Some of these sites are really excellent, modern and full of information, others are a bit lacking, but will give you some basic information which you can check with other sources.
There are also events like Noche de San Juan in June, which you won’t find on any official calendars. On this shortest night of the year people gather around bonfires and rid themselves of the emotional or spiritual rubbish they have attracted, and make resolutions for the future. If you have anything symbolic of the bad luck you’ve had and which is safe to burn, then you can toss it into the fire. To signifiy your “rebirth” you jump over the fire. Not, of course, the main bonfire, which rivals those of Guy Fawkes Night in England, but a smaller one you can make to your own specifications. More usual, if you attend a bonfire on the beach you can wash away the evil by going for a midnight swim. You might think sub-tropical climate, June, swim – ok, but believe me it can be chilly, so have something warm to grab when you come out! There is some control over the larger events these days, but many are privately organized, just like the November bonfires I remember as a kid. I’ve been going to the one in Las Galletas on the beach the last, few years, and it is amazing. Most people take a barbeque or a picnic, and there is always music, people with guitars or African drums. Really, it’s a senseless, fun night. If it falls on a weeknight it will probably mostly be over by 1am, but if it’s a Friday or a Saturday expect to watch the dawn come up.
If you are visiting and are here for New Year and find the entertainment in your hotel a bit boring, then head for the town square of the nearet municipality to see what’s going on. Here in El Médano there is the full “works” – salsa band, fireworks (of course) and bars selling drink and food…..and need I add, dancing till dawn :=)
There is more, things have come to me as I’ve been typing, but, quite honestly you’ll get too bored to read any further. If you are living here – ask around, check the town hall, the local newspapers for dates, and if you are coming to visit then check these things out online. It really doesn’t cost a bomb to have a good time!
This post was part of a series, here are the others: