When I was 5 years old my best friend and I loved to dress up. Her house had an attic which nobody except her seemed to use, full of boxes of old dresses, jackets, hats and jewellery which were dumped there by her three aunts before they went off to become nuns. We used to spend whole days trying stuff on and acting out stories and so began my love of dressing up.
In my twenties I lived in San Francisco for a year where I cut my teeth in adult dressing up and partying. There they take Halloween seriously, I mean really seriously. It’s probably the biggest party of the year, which is saying something, but really in San Francisco you could expect anyone at anytime to break out in to costume (and party) at the slightest excuse.
It wasn’t part of the reason I moved to Spain but what a bonus! Less than a month after we arrived in February 2010 the whole family were getting kitted out for the Carneval in Tarifa.
Tarifa’s Carneval is a brilliant festival of Catholic origins, a last hedonistic blast before the austerity of the 40 days of Lent, where adults and children have fun side-by-side. In fact it’s this very aspect of Spain that’s a big part of the reason I love living here – there is no big distinction between adult and child fun. At home in Ireland, kid fun happens during the day, in back gardens, play grounds, parks or at the beach, while night-time is almost exclusively for adults. Here the whole family has a blast together day and night in restaurants, at foam parties, ferias, fiestas, whatever.
Our then youngest was only 3 months for her first Carneval and she alternately was fascinated by and slept soundly through it in her buggy while our then 2 year old was bug-eyed and delirious with excitement at the spectacle of it all. This year an old party buddy from California joined us, along with his wife and two children; they were blown away, describing it as “like Burning man for children”.
There are loads more occassions for dressing up built in to the Spanish calender. For Halloween the school children become witches and vampires or whatever they want; for Christmas, Santas, shepherds and wise old kings. The adults partake to a greater or lesser extent depending on the fiesta and where you live.
After Tarifa, our next Carneval was in the Axarquia village of Sedella where we now live. We showed up chomping at the bit for a big street party, me in a massive yellow chicken suit, Ivan dressed as Zorro, but quickly found out this one was really just for the children. Oops.
There’s a great tradition of group dress up in Spain. Often the costumes can be simple enough but the impact when you see 10 or 20 people (or more) parading in the exact same gear can be stunning.
A few years ago Ray’s guarderia (nursery) in Canillas de Aceituno dressed all the little ones up as olives. The tutoras at the guarderia organised all the materials and all the mothers helped out with the sewing.
Here are all the mamas and kids parading through the streets of Sedella last March dressed up as Chinese paddy field farmers (I think, still not sure what we were meant to be…)