The tourist guide to Carnaval in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

I moved to Santa Cruz 7 years ago, so as a bona fide chicharrero, I’ll tell you this:
If you come to Carnaval, you’re going to enjoy it a whole lot more if you’re really part of it, rather than just being there as an observer.

To be part of it, you need to do 2 things:
– Don’t just buy a mask or viking hat. Put a little effort into it. At the least, go to one of the many stores that transform into costume stores during Carnaval, and buy a packaged outfit and wig.
Vacilar: This is what makes carnaval great. For one week, strangers get to talk to each other, and give each other a hard time. So interact with people. Dress up, play your role, and comment on the others’ outfit. If you’re dressed like a Mariachi, give the Trumps a hard time. If you can’t speak Spanish, use your hands to communicate. The music’s too loud to talk anyway.

Even the parades you can take part in if you feel like it. I loved it when my 17-year-old son, dressed up as an alien, just jumped into the opening-day parade and began interacting with the spectators.

A few tips:
– It’s better not to wear a mask. Hard to dance, hard to talk. I made this mistake my first year. It was a good mask, but difficult. A wig and face paint is much easier.

While women dress as anything, men tend to dress as women (and 15-year-olds tend to dress in a tutu). The hardcore carnaveleros wear a wig, breasts, tight skirt, sneakers. (I’m told there’s a store that stocks men’s sizes of women’s shoes — I’m infinitely impressed by a 100 Kg man who can survive high heels.) I admit there’s a mental hurdle to cross, but you’ll probably never get another mainstream chance to cross that hurdle. Snow White is ever-popular.

The Spanish are much more group-oriented than I’m used to as an American. Dressing up as a group makes more impact. And dressing up as a group means you only need one good idea, and you can all work together to turn the idea into reality.

In the carnaval, there are the stars: those people who dress up in amazing outfits every year, or are well known to everybody: if you go to the parade, you’ll see the guy who dresses up in a booth: whether it’s a movie booth or hotel reception. The City Hall tries to set a theme for each year, I guess it’s for those people who can’t come up with their own idea.

If you know how you want to dress, there are plenty of tailors in Santa Cruz (you’ll see why in the parade) who would be willing to prepare your costume. If interested, you can contact me.

After you know what to dress up as, you need to know when to dress up. The “day carnaval” began around 2008 and it’s roaring. I love it — a chance for parents to go out with their kids. Day carnaval happens on the first Sunday and the final Saturday. For those who are not trained like the Spanish in staying out until dawn, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, carnaval doesn’t really get going until after midnight. You can go out any night, though Monday night is the big night by far, though not necessarily the best: all the diehard folks are diluted by the “observers”. I never miss the funeral procession “Entierro de la Sardina” on Wednesday night. This procession starts around 10pm and ends up with the burning of the Sardina and fireworks around midnight. You can take part: just dress up as a grieving widow like most of the locals, or a nun, a priest, devil, angel, or other funeral themes. Staunch Catholic Franco outlawed Carnaval (in those days, it was renamed to “Fiestas de Invierno”, as you can see in the tiles on the floor near the auditorium), so the Entierro de la Sardina is a chance to satirize the Catholicism of the Franco years.

Some locals say wistfully that carnaval is not what it used to be — that people used to vacilar more, and then they mention the year that Celia Cruz performed. Ah yes, the past is always better than the present. Screw that: Carnaval is amazing. Long live Carnaval!




Post-script: I’m upset that in 2013, dressed up as a priest in the Entierro de la Sardina, some people thought I was a real priest. Then in 2015, dressed up as a Mormon, everybody thought I was a real Mormon, and refused to take my brochure describing my faith. I therefore have included this brochure, in hopes that someday, somebody may read it, and perhaps even think about conversion.

A Short History of the Mormon Faith

Aday Smith, founder of the Mormons

One fine day in 1821, the young Aday Smith was walking through the forests of Guimar when the Angel Guacimara appeared before him. She directed him to a spot in the forest where the sun reached. Suddenly a cave entrance opened up before his eyes. The angel directed him to enter, and said unto him:

If you take the right path, you will discover 96 inscribed golden plates. These plates have been buried by God. They describe, in the reformed Egyptian language, the history of the lost tribe of Israel and how this tribe traveled through Middle Earth for 140 years, provided with sustenance by God, until reaching the labyrinth of natural tunnels underneath the great Teide volcano. The tribe arrived to Tenerife in the year 838 BC. Go now and let yourself be guided by your Guanche ancestry.

Aday found the plates, taking a route that he later discovered exactly matched this Guanche petroglyph:

Aday, during Divine Inspiration Thursday, translated the plates from Reformed Egyptian, and thereby founded the religion of the Church of the Seven Island Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. He then returned the golden plates to the caves, except for one, which he took to the Compra Oro shop. This money provided for the construction of the First Church of Mormon, in Santa Cruz. (This church was later burned to the ground during the attack on Tenerife by Horacio Nelson.) The Angel Guacimara tambien dirigía que Aday construyera una pequeña casita en Sauzal, pero la población del Saucal enrabiaron del gusto de la casa. Emplumaron a Aday, y Aday sus seguidores tení­a que huir a La Victoria.

The Angel Guacimara appeared to Aday Smith on numerous occasions. On one early visit, she told him to cast his seed far and wide to propagate the Mormon faith. Aday followed her instructions and took on three wives in addition to his first wife.

Guacimara told Aday that all converts to the Mormon faith should do likewise, saying that their god would provide with fertile wives.

There are some who have cast doubts on the Mormon scripture. For example, they have referred to the passage “when oxen ploughed the fields“, saying that oxen did not exist in Tenerife during ancient times. It must be understood, however, that the bible is full of metaphors, that it was not literally oxen, but bands of lizards who were harnessed to work the land by the lost tribe of Israel. Others have said there is no Middle Earth tunnel linking Israel to Tenerife, however in February 2014, Jacob Gollum made a remarkable discovery of ancient unleavened bread crumbs and olive pits deep in the recesses of the Cueva del Viento.