About Carnival or Carnestoltes
An extract from the book Andorra Revealed
Carnival is, in some ways, a time of confusion. For start, there is no set date for this festival as it revolves around the date of the start of Lent, a movable fast that depends on the moveable feast of Easter.
This is typical of the occasion, as the first thing to realise is that there are no fixed rules about Carnival or Carnestoltes. Even the word Carnestoltes swirls with confusion. It can refer to Carnival itself or to King Carnestoltes who is a figure similar to Tudor England’s Lord of Misrule. He in turn can be a stuffed effigy, sometimes resembling a leading political figure, and strung up high above the main town square to oversee the revelries. But equally he can be an actor or singer dressed up in crazy clothes and in charge of leading the days of carousing .
As well as traditional parades and fancy dress balls, each year Andorra’s comuns try to dream up something new. For example Encamp specialises in holding events at odd times: 4.05pm Trial of Smugglers followed by a sausage BBQ or 3.12am (sic) sweetmeats in the village hall. Carnestoltes (the actor) might open the festivities with a satirical speech singling out the key political events of the year, poking fun at government ministers or other important personages, never actually spelling out names but giving broad enough hints to keep the crowd chuckling. During the remaining days until Ash Wednesday he presides over masked balls, parades and all kinds of entertainments.
Finally in many parishes, on Shrove Tuesday, he, or the effigy, stands trial for bad behaviour and is sentenced to death. After reading his last will and testament – always permeated with the message to enjoy life to the full – the effigy is taken down and burned in the main square. (Happily the actor is more often ‘buried’). The Carnival King has become scapegoat for all the mayhem of Carnival. There follows the seven weeks of austerity and abstinence which is Lent.
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