Carnival is celebrated in every major town in each of the islands, but the main celebrations are held in the capital cities. The celebrations take place between January and April each year with dates changing according to when Easter is celebrated. The forty days prior to Easter, known as Lent, have always been marked by the Catholic practice of giving up meat during that time. So the fiesta of Carnival took place just before Lent begins on Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Carnival means ‘goodbye to flesh’ in Latin and became a time for a wild party.
There are references to Carnival in island government records as far back as February 1556, but the fiesta has grown from strong influences from South America and the Caribbean, as many Canarians left the islands after the Spanish Conquest seeking work or their fortunes in the newly discovered lands of the Americas. Some islanders were forced to leave their homes in the Canary Islands by the Spanish government as it wanted more people to settle in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Over the years, many islanders returned to their homes and brought with them many traditions from these newly discovered countries.
The La Palma 'White Party'
On the small island of La Palma they hold a unique fiesta called Fiesta de Los Indianos - The Festival of the Indians - and now often called the White Party. On the Monday before Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the city of Santa Cruz de La Palma celebrates Los Indianos Fiesta. This is a celebration of those who emigrated from the island many years ago, particularly for islands in the Caribbean and South America and then returned having made their fortune. The fiesta is a representation of people wearing white suits and costumes of an earlier colonial period; some portray the wealthy and some are their servants. The parade takes place through the streets of the capital to the sound of Latin American music. The main event of the day however is the Batalla de Polvos de Talco when bags of talcum powder are thrown at anyone standing nearby. So by the end of the battle, most people have white hair and faces, as well as white clothes.
Carnival in Las Palmas is based in Santa Catalina Park near the port and begins in the last week of January and lasts until the middle of February each year. The dates change each year, but the web site has the programme of events in Spanish and English. There are singing competitions called Murgas, and costume contests for children and adults. The main contests are for Carnival Queen, Child Queen and Drag Queen each year. It seems that the whole of Las Palmas dresses up in fabulous costumes and is great fun. Download a programme of events from the official websites, be prepared to be up all night and bring a costume!
Carnival in Maspalomas takes place through the streets of Playa del Ingles, along Avenida de Tirajana and entertainment and costume contests take place in the auditorium in Parque del Sur, near Holiday World and the Yumbo Centre. Check the official websites for dates. Many shops sell carnival costumes, hats and wigs, so there is no excuse not to join in. The carnival ends with the burial of the sardine - you have to see it to believe it!