By Eloise Horsfield
In February each year, Spain hosts some of Europe’s biggest carnivals.
While the roots of this tradition are disputed, many trace them back to Pagan festivals held by the Romans to celebrate the end of winter.
Later incorporated into the Catholic calendar to enable folk to let their hair down in the run-up to Lent, carnival was banned under Franco and only restored after his death in 1975.
Cadiz has the oldest and biggest carnival, involving nine days of official non-stop partying.
I knew I’d need a costume, so I bought a flamboyant pink flamenco dress at Manilva’s flea market.
With my colleague James dressed as a pirate – complete with black ‘guyliner’ – and Wendy donning the attire of a London guard, the three of us headed to Cadiz’s famous carnival as excited as children on Christmas morning.
But as we rolled into town, I began to wonder whether my outfit was entirely appropriate.
Everyone else was in wacky fancy dress – and the zanier and more colourful, the better.
There were fluorescent wigs, men in make-up, theatrical masks, every cartoon character imaginable, and – my personal favourite – a particularly well thought-out mushroom.
Then there were the not-so politically correct get-ups such as ‘Moors’ and ‘blacked-up’ Africans – making me wonder whether the Hitler costume I’d been so shocked to see on sale had actually ended up getting an airing.
Back to my own outfit, my insecurities were confirmed when, as I strolled along the seafront, an old lady yelled out: “This isn’t the feria, this is carnival!!”
It dawned on me I’d got my Spanish festivals slightly muddled – flamenco dresses are traditionally donned during ferias, not carnivals!
That is, unless you are a man with very hairy legs.
Thankfully most took it well, with many shouting ‘Olé!’ and inviting me to dance.
For hours we absorbed the buzz, necking Cruzcampos and dancing in front of Cadiz’s majestic cathedral.
And although it all became a bit of a blur, I do recall a group of male Snow Whites showing off their lack of underpants and Wendy being chatted up by a mop.
The most spectacular outfits of all, however, were worn by the choirs whose tuneful harmonies gave us a much-needed perk on Sunday afternoon.
The coros are large groups of musicians who travel through the streets on floats, singing funny, satirical songs related to current affairs or politics.
Along with the 12-piece chirigota choirs, the best coros compete in a televised contest at Cadiz’s main theatre – while others participate in fringe competitions in the street throughout the nine days.
With the music and colour of the carnival, I’ll be putting Cadiz 2013 straight into my diary – and I’ve already decided I’ll be going as a Pitufa (Smurfette).