DIJOUS GRAS SIGNALS THE START OF CARNAVAL IN BARCELONA
Catalunya’s answer to Pancake Day is Dijous Gras, or Fat Thursday, which is celebrated a full week ahead of Ash Wednesday. Dijous Gras kickstarts Carnaval (aka “Carnestoltes”) in a last blaze of debauchery before the forty days of Lenten abstinence. In fact, the very word carnestoltes has its roots in the concept of abstaining from meat.
Like many Catalan traditions, Dijous Gras is an excuse to come together with your loved ones and eat lots of food – specifically, fatty food. While you’ll find variations in different parts of Catalunya, the focus is generally on pork and eggs, which are cooked into botifarra sausage, truita de botifarra and coca de llardons.
Why pork? The tradition dates back to the olden days, when a pig was ceremoniously killed for St. Martin’s Day in November. By the time Dijous Gras rolled around several months later, there was almost nothing left of the pig. The last remaining dregs of meat and fat were made into llardons and botifarres, which people tucked into avidly to prepare for the fast ahead.
Schoolchildren traditionally celebrate Dijous Gras by bringing their llardons and botifarres to a convivial picnic in the fields. Formerly, children also used to go around collecting eggs from nearby houses to assist in the preparation of the truita, the botifarra d’ou and the coca de llardons – a tradition that sounds suspiciously like an Easter egg hunt, if you ask me!
After kicking off the Carnaval on Dijous Gras, the party goes nonstop for seven days straight with parades, masquerade balls and other events. A host of unruly characters preside over Barcelona’s Carnaval, the leaders being the King and Queen, or the Rei Tòtil Tocatdelala and the Reina Belluga.
They’re accompanied by the gegants and the Ambassadors, colourful characters who combine elements of the 17th century and the seven deadly sins with modern-day traits of the neighbourhoods of Barcelona. The truly crazy partiers go to Sitges, where the revelling is taken up yet another notch.
Most people agree that the highlight of the Carnaval is the Taronjada, an orange-throwing festival that takes place on the Sunday. It’s a tradition that dates back at least to the year 1333, with just one slight change – whereas people used to chuck actual oranges at each other, they now make do with harmless confetti and orange balloons.
The Carnaval ends with Ash Wednesday, or Dimecres de Cendra, where Catalans ceremoniously bury a sardine dressed in funny clothing. No one is really sure where this tradition came from. It’s thought that there might have been a mix-up somewhere along the road, since “sardina” in Catalan can also be used to refer to a specific cut of pork. What is clear is that the tradition is a symbolic means of hiding the fat out of sight, thereby putting an end to the excesses of Carnaval and heralding the start of Lent.
The Carnaval always has a theme based on the year’s events. This year, the queen is sick with sadness over the pandemic, and the king must do everything in his power to make her laugh. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Barcelona will stage a predominantly virtual Carnaval, where you can follow the story with themed videos and music shared on YouTube. That said, you’ll still be able to find some events organised by local neighbours’ committees, so keep an eye out in your barri!
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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