Costumes, kings, and confections: Catalan Carnival begins
The week-long celebration before Ash Wednesday kicked off in the seaside towns of Vilanova i la Geltrú and Sitges with a ‘meringue war’ and the arrival of the Carnival King
Ash Wednesday is around the corner, bringing with it 40 days of abstinence and austerity. Worldwide, this typically also means one ‘last’ big celebration before over a month of sacrifice. And in Catalonia, the party already began on Thursday with the arrival of a fantastical carnival king, and the sweetest food fight of all.
‘La festa de la merengada’ food fight
The party kicks off in the seaside town of Vilanova i la Geltrú, south of Barcelona. Forget the Spanish ‘tomatina’ fight – this is much tastier. For years, the Blanch pastry shop, held by Jaume Blanch, has organized what’s known in Catalan as ‘La festa de la merengada’ – or, in English, the meringue war.
In this sticky sweet food fight on the street, hundreds of children gather to throw the confection at each other, aided by Blanch himself, who throws piping bags full of the dessert from the balcony of his shop. And then, the big reveal: the ‘main’ meringue, a man-sized sweet that’s on display in the establishment window leading up to Fat Thursday, is lowered into the crowd.
This year, its large size was indeed part of the theme. In fact, Blanch commented on the political situation in the country by decorating the meringue as if Carles Puigdemont, deposed Catalan president currently in Brussels, were hiding inside, only his hands, glasses, and the top of his distinctive head of hair visible.
Sitges ‘taken over’ by the King of Carnival
But the merrymaking didn’t stop there. In the coastal town of Sitges, less than 10km north of Vilanova i Geltrú, the festivities took a turn for the colorful and the wonderfully weird. The town also welcomed the arrival of its new ‘leader’ for the next 7 days: His Majesty Carnestoltes, the King of Carnival for 2018.
Hundreds watched as a ‘scientist’ attempted time and time again to create the perfect carnival king, but to no avail. And then, appeared the extravagant royalty, singing and dancing in awe-inspiring, rainbow clothes and makeup.
Part of the play is for King Carnestoltes to have ‘taken over’ the Sitges town hall for the coming week, heralding the zany antics and celebrations yet to come. But the monarch will not rule alone. His arrival was quickly followed by that of antagonist, the ‘wicked’ Carnival Queen, with garb fit for a Disney film. But don’t be fooled: the whole point is to represent a wickedly feminist transgressive character, one who doesn’t play nice.