Carnival 2012 in Madrid & The Burial of the Sardine - Spanish Sabores

Carnival 2012 in Madrid & The Burial of the Sardine

For Spaniards the word carnaval brings to mind much more than Mardi Gras beads and sexy samba dancers. Spain is home to lavish carnival celebrations of its own, such as the all night parties of carnival hotspots like Cadiz and Tenerife. Surprisingly, and despite living in El Puerto de Santa María, I’ve never been to Cadiz’s famous carnival. It seems a bit too crazy and crowded for my taste. My husband calls the Saturday night festivities “a river of piss and bodily excrements” and warns me that around 3:00 am most people are freezing, drunk, and have nowhere to go. I’m fairly certain I’d be miserable! Nonetheless, I’d love to go one year during the day to experience the fun atmosphere, crazy costumes, and funny carnival songs. I’m also dying to check out Tenerife’s famous carnival with its lively music, gorgeous costumes, and warm weather!

But here I am in Madrid. A month ago I wasn’t sure if Madrid even celebrated carnival, until one of my adult students told me about the city’s various festivities. The coolest tradition in the capital? El Entierro de la Sardina (The Burial of the Sardine). This wacky tradition gives other strange Spanish events a run for their money and shouldn’t be missed!

Yet the burial is the last day of carnival, Ash Wednesday, so you may be asking yourself what Madrid does to celebrate before. I can’t speak for years prior, but in 2012 parades and music seem to be the main attractions. Starting tomorrow, February 17th, the celebrations begin with the opening parade in Plaza de la Villa. This year’s carnival inspiration is classical mythology and a mysterious faun has been named the week’s central figure.

I think the most interesting opening event at the Madrid carnival is a performance by a Deabru Beltzak, a famous street theater group from the Basque Country. They’ll be performing their show Wolves, a story of a vengeful pianist who uses his music to coerce a pack of mystical wolves to attack his village. Yes, it sounds scary and bizarre, and if the video below is any example I wouldn’t advise bringing small children.

In addition to Friday’s parades there is also the option of enjoying live music with REC Madrid. La Noche en Vivo will take place in many different bars and clubs across the city. This event is one of electronic music’s most well known audiovisual and interactive art festivals.

On Saturday the fun continues with a huge parade and more performances. There is also a costume contest and workshops for children.

El Entierro de la Sardina


But let’s talk about the last and most important event of all: The Burial of the Sardine. Every year, in various Spanish towns and cities, the people celebrate Ash Wednesday (the day before lent begins) by holding a mock funeral and burying a sardine in his coffin as a way of saying goodbye to the festivities. In Madrid the very official “Happy Brotherhood of the Burial of the Sardine” does the honors. Members of the brotherhood and other people dress in black robes and funeral clothes and march behind the coffin on its way to the burial site. Here are some theories for this strange event:

  1. Many years ago Charles III, the King of Spain, ordered sardines to be served at his carnival party. However, by the time they were to be eaten the small fish were rotten and it was decided that they must be buried to get rid of the smell. His guests mourned the thought of burying their free food and starting the restrictive Lenten period.
  2. Another theory is that the people used to bury a pork rib to signify the giving up of meat during lent. Supposedly, at this time the colloquial name for the pork rib was sardina and at some point people started burying a sardine instead of meat.
  3. Others claim that the sardine is buried to bring luck to all of the fishermen who will be responsible for feeding everyone throughout the 40 days of meatless lent.

Regardless of how this tradition began, it is quite a unique event. This year the sardine’s coffin will be buried on Wednesday, February 22 at el Fuente de los Pajaritos in Casa del Campo. You can join in the procession (don’t forget to wear black!) at its starting point at San Antonio de la Florida.

Has anyone been to El Entierro before? Or do you have another preferred carnival destination?


  1. Ale is right about carnaval in Cádiz being a river of piss, because it absolutely is. I’ve been twice and two times was once too many! I remember year two not getting home until 10am the next morning because of all the people crowding the ferry station back to El Puerto starting at 6am.

    1. It just doesn’t appeal to me very much! Although I’d love to go on a Sunday when its a little less crowded and people are still dressed up and singing. I love the chirigotas (when I understand them!)

  2. I’ve never been to Carnival in Madrid… but have been to the one in Tenerife many times! There, we also have El Entierro de la Sardina – a huge sardine is burnt that evening and sent off in a boat to the ocean. Everyone gets dressed up as widows and start crying (must be quite a bizarre thing to experience for the first time).

  3. Thanks for the mini history lesson. I hadn’t heard anything about the sardine in Spain. I know there is a big Sardine festival in Portugal.

    I’m suppose to be going to Cadiz tomorrow afternoon from Almeria (8hr), stay out all night and then get back in the car Sunday morning. I’m already not feeling well but after reading a few comments, I’m feeling less inclined to go. The 16 hrs of driving in less than 48 hrs doesn’t appeal to me either? But then again, it’s an opportunity to go to Cadiz Carnavel.

  4. I’ve been to a couple Cadiz-like festivals and know now to avoid them at all costs. (The recuperatory period lasts far too long!) The Burial of the Sardine is quite the custom and would love to see Tenerife’s interpretation. Some day …

  5. I love the Wolves to bits! Really atmospheric and surreal. Thanks so much for posting it. As for the Entierro de la Sardina, I´ve only seen it held (or mounted or celebrated) at my daughter´s primary school. What they always did was set the whole lot on fire, and one year with the wind in the wrong direction, I thought we might all become smoked fish! I don´t know the origins either but all the explanations you offer are interesting.

  6. We have a “Burial of the Sardine” in Bilbao too, as do many many other places in Spain, with a song to accompany it and all…

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