The 1st carnival in Spain takes place on January 17!

The carnival usually takes place in mid-February but this one, in Santa María de los Llanos, is the first and oldest to be held in Spain. This is an original carnival, like the one in Cadiz.

San Anton, patron saint of animals, was one of the most represented saints in the history of art (El Bosco, Parentino, Zurbarán, Otto Dix, Dalí, Diego Rivera, etc.), especially on the theme of temptations to which, according to Christian tradition, he was subjected. It is to these temptations that the practice of dressing up on his name day.

A long tradition

And so it is that in Santa María de los Llanos, a village of Cuenca (Castile-La Mancha), tradition has it that on January 17, the day of San Anton, the first carnival in Spain takes place. Sure, animals are always blessed at the door of the church in front of the image of the saint. In the past, these were mainly those used in agricultural and transport work, including mules, donkeys, oxen and horses.

In addition to these animals, there were others such as dogs, most of which played the role of guardians and also helpers for the shepherds. Other animals closely related to humans, such as pigs, lambs, cats, poultry, etc. could also be blessed. It was also customary for these animals be decorated embroidered blankets, bedspreads, manila shawls, flowers, and their manes were cut in a special way, along with the rest of their fur.

The importance of the pig in the feast of San Anton

Another important element of this feast of San Anton was the presence of the pig. The pig appears very frequently in the imagery dedicated to this saint, and it is also a very important animal in the food life of the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula. For San Anton, a pig was bred among all the villagers and paid for by the brotherhood of the saint. As a child, the pig roamed freely around the village while the villagers fed it.

A parody of the 80s
Photo: Juan Ignacio Vera

After a few months, the pig had become a large and heavy animal. On the day of San Anton, the pig was drawn among the villagers, which was great luck for whoever got it. The pig solved the winter of a whole family, because after its slaughter (a very important act in rural life), one could enjoy the meat and the by-products that ensured the family’s food for months.

The carnival and its current parodies

Today, Santa María de los Llanos remains an important celebration since it is the first carnivals held in Spain. A curious celebration where the religious cult of the patron saint of animals mixes with a carnival parade light and fun, where a critical point is underlined with funny parodies of events and of the most important characters of the year which has just ended, which constitutes a point of difference with the other parades of this nature and which recalls the famous carnival of Cadiz where we find this parody on your ironic and critical of current events.

A parody of the parade
Photo: Juan Ignacio Vera

Once the Christmas festivities are over, locals set about preparing the costumes and parodies they will wear in the carnival parade. So much the theme that costumes and floats are the best kept secrets, surprise always being the common element of these festivities. And, as in all Spanish fiestas, gastronomy and typical products play an important role in the fiesta.

The 1st carnival in Spain takes place on January 17!