The Solsona Carnival

Giants dance to the sound of the Bufi: the Carnival hymn. They are the main protagonists of the festival together with the donkey and the Carnival king ... In 1978, this was declared a Festival of National Tourist Interest.

The year 1971 was very special one for the city of Solsona (El Solsonès – Pyrenees), and particularly for its traditional folk festivals, as it was the year in which one of its most historic events, the Carnival, was recovered. In 1936, General Franco had issued an official declaration at Burgos by which all of the carnivals celebrated in the Spanish state were officially prohibited. Although some settlements still continued to celebrate popular festivals under the name of Carnival during the period of prohibition, they did so without the most essential elements of the traditional Carnival festival.

In Solsona, a group of young people had already got together to organise popular and cultural activities, but it was not until 1971 that, with the support of the local population and above all the local authorities, they decided to bring back Carnestoltes, the Carnival king. After an absence of 35 years, this character returned to read a sermon in the traditional form of a humorous, disrespectful, critical account of proceedings. After this, and adhering to popular tradition, the local people burnt an effigy of the King of Carnival on Ash Wednesday, in an act known as the Enterrament de la Sardina (the burial of the sardine). So, for one week a year, the peaceful town of Solsona, whose peace and quiet were perhaps even more impressive than its cathedral, was converted into an upside down world in which everything was reversed. The deafening music of Shrove Tuesday was the first noisy manifestation of the Carnival of Solsona (and right under the nose of the dictator!)The festival was a total success. The Carnival king not only arrived at the city and died there, but his successors have since continued to perform this same until today. 1971 witnessed the beginning of a long history that a, now disappeared, newspaper referred to as “the cheerful subversion of a town with an Episcopal seat”. Since then, the festival has generally maintained its format, although many of elements have also been modified. For example, 1972 saw the first election of “miss stranger from outside”, a parody of the prize competitions in which the local councils used to choose a young girl from one of the well-to-do families who spent their summers in the town. The following year, saw the recovery of the traditional contradanses: dances that poked fun at old-style ballroom dances.Solsona is well-known for its long tradition of giants and giant making. This is not surprising, given that the workshops that Srs. Casserras have in the town have produced numerous giants and other folkloric characters for institutions from all over the Iberian Peninsula. These same workshops also produced quixotic replicas of the giants of the Festa Major (Main Festival) of Solsona. It was not long before the, now deceased, music master Roure composed a potpourri of pasa dobles (two step dances) called “El Bufi” which has become the Carnival hymn; this is a hymn that both young and old sing both at home and in the street.

Furthermore, in 1975, the Carnival received a subsidy of 50,000 pts from the Spanish Ministry of Information and Tourism. With the passing of time, new acts and folkloric elements were gradually added to the Carnival, and in 1978, the Gegant Boig (Mad Giant) appeared as head of the best known family in the local district. There was controversy in 1986 … over the hanging of the donkey. According to legend, the people of Solsona once sent a donkey to eat the grass growing in the bell tower of Solsona cathedral. But, as the stairway was very narrow, the people in charge of the tower decided to help the young donkey up the tower by putting a rope round its neck to pull it up: what else? (There is no need to explain how the poor animal reached the top of the bell tower.) They say the basic requirement of a sense of humour is being able to laugh at yourself; that is why a donkey (albeit an artificial one) is now hung from the bell tower at Carnival.

Nowadays, the Carnival celebrations go on for nine days and there are more than 40 different events. There is something for all tastes and ages, from a good hearty meal, in which the most important ingredient is pork, to a children’s fancy dress competition in which more than three hundred children dress up.In 1995, a special silver coin was minted to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the arrival of Carnestoltes. A special album of stickers was also published, as well as book containing the first 25 sermons that were read on the Sunday of Carnival. A publishing company from Solsona has published a book that reviews all of these years of Carnival history, featuring presidents of the association, outstanding acts and events, Matarrucs (donkey killers) of honour, and Carnestoltes, etc. Several famous people have travelled to Solsona to hang the donkey and read the public announcements at the festival, and the festival has also been featured in a large number of television and radio programmes.

Information provided by the Local District Tourist Office of El Solsonès.

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