Carnival season is back in Bilbao

06 Feb 2017

Carnivals are already back on the scene. Look, discover, book our course and find out everything that takes place in the town of Bilbao.

Carnivals kick off in Bilbao with the Trial of of Farolín and Zarambolas, two popular characters chosen from the most illustrious citizens of Bilbao and concluded with a classic spectacle of the burning of the sardine. In the middle of all this two key events happen, six days of parades, dressing up competitions, concerts, games and child workshops. It is the time when Bilbao shows its most fun side.

Official programme of 2017 carnivals in Bilbao

A bit of history…

Carnival is a celebration that takes place immediately before the start of Christian Lent, with various dates (between February and March depending on the year), and it combines elements like dressing up, parades, and parties on the street. There are some similar festivals like this later in the year. Despite the differences in how these celebrations are presented throughout the world, their common characteristic is that they are all a period of permissiveness and a certain lack of control This is supposedly the reason why historically people wear masks.

The origin of their celebrations probably lie in pagan festivals, like those carried out in honour of Baco, the god of wine, or like the Saturnales and Lupercales Romanas festivals, or they were carried out in honour of the Apis bull in Egypt. According to some historians, the origins of this festival go back to the ancient civilisations of Sumer and Egypt, some 5000 years ago, with very similar celebrations during the age of the Roman Empire in which they spread throughout Europe, being brought to America by Spanish and Portuguese settlers from the 15th century.

The carnival is mainly associated with traditional catholic countries, and to a lesser extent the oriental orthodox Christian countries: protestant cultures usually do not celebrate the carnival or have modified traditions, like the Danish carnival.

Ethnologists find surviving elements of old festivals and cultures, like the winter festival (Saturnalia), the Dionysiacs Greek and Roman celebrations (Bacanales), the prehistoric Andes festivals and the Afro-American cultures.


At the start of the Middle Ages the Catholic church proposed a etymology of carnival: from the Latin ‘vulgar carne-levare’, which means ‘to abandon meat’(which fairly was the obligatory prescription for the whole town during each Friday of Lent).

Later another etymology surged that nowadays is handled in the popular arena: the word Italiana carnivale, which meant the time during which one could eat. But at the end of the 20th century various authors began to suspect the pagan origin of the name. Carna is the Celtic goddess of beans and bacon. Also it would connected with Indo-European festivals, dedicated to the god Karna (who in Mahabharata appears as a human being).

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