‘Burial of the Sardine’ ritual at tail end of classic carnival week across Catalonia

Seven days of decadence draw to an end on Wednesday with the mysteriously sombre ceremony coinciding with the beginning of Lent

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Barcelona for pure celebrations
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Barcelona for pure celebrations / Daniel Wittenberg

Daniel Wittenberg | Barcelona

March 6, 2019 02:14 PM

It certainly puts Pancake Day into perspective. An epic week of partying shortly settles into the strangely serious spectacle of a funeral procession for a sardine.

The symbolic ceremony, apparently inspired by a surreal Goya painting, is taking place across Catalonia at the climax of the carnival week on Ash Wednesday, representing the start of abstinence and penance in the 40 days leading up to Easter.

While in some cases, this actually involves eating sardines and engaging in the odd playful ritual, other communities at least appear to take the occasion seriously. In the Barcelona suburb of Sant Andreu, for example, ‘funeralgoers’ are asked to wear black.

Yet the event universally leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth.

For obvious reasons, in Barcelona, the burial revolves around the beach area, where there will be ample opportunity to taste sardines, while in the city centre, a fire show is being put on, as well as a communal sardine-cooking session (known as the sardinada).

From Fat Thursday onwards

The festivities began with Fat Thursday (the equivalent of Pancake Day or Mardi Gras). Revellers sashayed down La Rambla, Barcelona’s main boulevard, leaving a trail of orange confetti and party poppers in their wake. Tortilla-frying contests and giant sausage barbecues (known as botifarrades) could also be found dotted around the city on a day when there are no rules.

The bunting was out in force on a Friday and Saturday filled with street parties and children’s activities in virtually every neighbourhood.

Then attention turned to Sitges for the highlight of the week’s celebrations. The ‘debauchery parade’, interspersed with pride, was a typically flamboyant affair on Sunday, featuring dozens of floats and several thousand participants. On Tuesday, they were back at it with the ‘extermination parade’, packed with drag queens dressed in black to mourn the last of the major parades.

Sweet scenes in central Catalonia

Meanwhile in Vilanova, the only carnival event to have endured throughout the Franco regime is livelier than ever. Following the annual meringue battle on Fat Thursday – the tip of the iceberg –residents wage a euphoric ‘candy war’ against one another over the weekend. Turned out in vibrant traditional attire, they organise themselves into groups and fling sweets at their rivals.

Outside the large cities, a series of communal meals called ranxos were underway with traditional meat and vegetable stew on the menu.

Although slightly toned down and spookier, Wednesday night offers a final opportunity for locals to let their hair down, boast the quality of their cooking, and enjoy a nice meal in the company of friends and, especially, neighbours, after a very communal carnival.